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US, EU ‘unable to attend’ opening of parliament

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EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar tests indelible ink at an NEC conference before last year’s commune elections. Hong Menea

US, EU ‘unable to attend’ opening of parliament

The US and EU ambassadors to Cambodia “will not be able to attend”, despite being invited to Wednesday’s opening of the new National Assembly – one formed entirely by the Cambodian People’s Party after its recent landslide election victory.

National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long told The Post on Monday that the National Assembly had invited all ambassadors from embassies in Phnom Penh and members of more than 10 international organisations to be honourable guests at the National Assembly’s inauguration.

“We have invited more than 30 ambassadors, including those from the US and EU embassies, and there are about 10 international organisations invited as well. I do not know how many of them will be able to attend,” he said.

US Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg told The Post via email on Monday that US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt will not be able to attend the inauguration of the sixth legislative National Assembly.

“Ambassador Heidt departed Phnom Penh over the weekend for a brief series of consultations in Washington, and is unable to attend,” she said.

She did not respond as to whether the embassy would send anyone to represent the US government.

Similarly, a representative of the EU in Cambodia told The Post on Monday that it had received an invitation to attend the opening of the National Assembly, but Ambassador George Edgar would not be able to attend.

In an emailed reply to The Post on Monday, Simone Pieri, chargé d’affaires of the Delegation of the European Union to Cambodia, said Ambassador George Edgar is currently not in the Kingdom.

“An invitation letter addressed to Ambassador George Edgar has recently been received. The Ambassador is currently out of the country and will not be able to attend,” Pieri said.

The US and EU were part of a chorus of voices criticising Cambodia’s July 29 national elections as neither free nor fair, while India, China and Russia joined the many Southeast Asian countries that congratulated the CPP on its victory.

King Norodom Sihamoni will preside over the opening of the National Assembly, while its first session will be headed by the chamber’s oldest and most senior figure, Heng Samrin, as it confirms its membership and internal regulations.

On Thursday, it is due to vote on its president and vice president and give its support to the new government.

Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser for international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand, told The Post: “The new regime will definitely receive domestic legitimacy since it controls all organs of governance."

“However, the regime’s international legitimacy will be mixed with legitimacy granted by authoritarian allies China and Russia, but legitimacy mostly withheld by the US and EU."

Political analyst Hang Vitou said the absence of the US and EU ambassadors, regardless of the reasons given, was a message expressing their dissatisfaction with the current state of Cambodian politics.

“I think by not attending, the EU and US are showing that they do not recognise [the Cambodian parliament]. However, if there are changes, they can cooperate with the government [accordingly]."

“If the ambassador is busy, he will usually send a representative. However, if he chooses not to come, they [the embassy] simply says they are busy."

“This means [not attending] is [an] intentional [move]. I think the [Cambodian] government knows this very well. It is a political message to make the [Cambodian] government think,” he said.

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