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US diplomat expresses concern, hopes over upcoming elections

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel speaks at a press conference at the US Embassy yesterday afternoon.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel speaks at a press conference at the US Embassy yesterday afternoon. Hong Menea

US diplomat expresses concern, hopes over upcoming elections

United States Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel yesterday said Cambodia’s political stalemate was a matter of concern, but nonetheless expressed hope the coming elections would be free and fair.

On a tour of the region, Russel, head of the State Department‘s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, yesterday met with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha.

His visit comes a month after the US and 38 other countries expressed “deep concern” at the escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, particularly the state’s use of legal action against opponents.

During a closed-door meeting with Sokhon in the morning, the senior US diplomat was told the political situation had in fact improved and that the government hoped the CNRP would soon end its boycott of parliament, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry.

Russel, however, received a different version of events from Sokha at CNRP headquarters, where the opposition leader is currently holed up to avoid arrest in a widely criticised court case.

CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the pair discussed the current political situation, with Sokha expressing his concern that the impact of a bevy of legal cases against the party’s members would undermine the election’s fairness.

Sokha and CNRP president Sam Rainsy – whose nearly year-long self-imposed exile was recently made official by a state ban on re-entry – both face jail sentences in what are widely believed to be politically motivated cases.

Speaking to journalists later in the afternoon, Russel called for talks between the parties and said the US wanted to see an environment in which politicians could campaign freely and safely.

“There clearly is not adequate intra-party dialogue, and the fact that the ruling party and the opposition party have yet to come to acceptable terms on the way forward is a matter of concern to all of Cambodia’s friends,” he said.

“Cambodia is, by virtue of its Constitution, the Paris Peace Accords and the will of the people, declared as a multi-party democracy, and it’s very much our hope that it will operate as a multi-party democracy.”

Russel said that the US stood ready to assist in ensuring the logistics for Cambodia’s elections were in place.

Asked whether that approach would help avoid the accusations of fraud and foul play that have marred previous elections, Russel said he was a “believer in human progress” and that “people and countries learn from experience and learn from mistakes”.

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