Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US roadshow breezes through

US roadshow breezes through

US roadshow breezes through

I F Warren Christopher looked tired after his day in Phnom Penh drizzle last

Friday, it's no wonder.

From 8:45am until after 10pm, the 69-year-old

U.S. Secretary of State criss-crossed the city, meeting separately with the two

Prime Ministers, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, leaders of four NGOs and a

half dozen Cambodian politicians. He gave two speeches and a press conference.

He sat mopping the sweat off his face during a half hour landmine presentation

at CMAC. He traipsed through the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in the rain and

wrapped up his visit with a Royal audience at the palace with King


The packed schedule was sandwiched into an Asia trip during

which Christopher had other important diplomatic missions to carry out,

including an attempt to fix damaged U.S. ties with China and to open a new era

of U.S. relations with Vietnam.

Indeed the Cambodia visit was viewed of

minor importance by many of the 13 journalists traveling with him from

Washington. Several said they didn't plan to write anything about the Cambodia

stop, which came one day after leaving the ASEAN talks in Brunei, and one day

before the official opening of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

"There was no

hard news today," said CNN correspondent Jud Ginsberg Friday evening. "Cambodia

is one of those places you go to when you are in the region." A wire service

correspondent traveling with Christopher agreed. "The story is Vietnam," he


But the visit was still a milestone in Cambodia's relations with

the United States. It emphasized, according to a state department official, the

United States' sense of a "moral responsibility" to Cambodia. According to the

official, once the Secretary of State's office had decided that Christopher was

to make the trip to Vietnam, "it was a no brainer" to add Cambodia. "He wanted

to come."

Christopher's message repeated throughout the day was that

Cambodia's "fragile democracy" launched two years ago needs


The country has come "remarkably far" in two years, he said

when he arrived at Pochentong Airport. But he added that "the survival of

Cambodian democracy cannot be taken for granted. Even with its massive

humanitarian investment in Cambodia over the past decade, the international

community must continue to do its part."

He said the United States will

"remain steadfast in its support of the still fragile


"In a democracy it's not the first, but the second

elections that really count," Christopher said later at a press conference at

the Cambodiana Hotel attended by about 100 people.

"Today Cambodia is

poised to enter the mainstream of a Southeast Asia at peace," he


Some of the Cambodian politicians who met with Christopher over

lunch at U.S. Ambassador Charles Twining's residence said they were pleased that

he inquired about Cambodia's human rights situation and the restrictive new

press law, which prohibits the press from reporting on matters that might affect

"national security" and "political stability".

At lunch he questioned

Khieu Kanharith, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Information, about how

to define "national security" and "political stability". Kanharith agreed to

supply the Khmer Journalists Association and the new League of Cambodia

Journalists with the answer.

Pin Samkhon, president of the KJA, said he

told Christopher that the new press law is bad and is not acceptable to

journalists, and he asked the U.S. government to be vigilant in helping oversee

that Cambodia is able to maintain a free press.

The first to speak at the

lunch was Prince Norodom Sirividh, who, according to others who were present,

told Christopher that Cambodia had only "half the freedom" it wanted to


Second was Kem Sokha, the Chairman of the National Assembly's Human

Rights Commission, who said he told Christopher that Cambodia has four pressing

human rights problems. First, that the government continues to intimidate the

MPs; second, that the court system is not independent; third, that there is no

freedom of expression and fourth, no rule of law.

Sokha said he told

Christopher that it will do no good to try to develop the country without first

addressing human rights.

Sokha said he didn't have enough time to tell

Christopher that he expected to be kicked out of his political party and

expelled from the assembly along with five other members of the BLDP


The BLDP faction led by Minister of Information Ieng Mouly did

expel him as planned on Saturday.

National Assembly member Ahmad Yahya,

who also attended the lunch , said he told Christopher there were some areas in

which he disagreed with the government, but he said that Christopher did not

"give us a strong message. He listened to us," he said.

At the press

conference, Christopher noted that Cambodia is in "a fragile difficult

situation. Democracy begins with elections. So much has to be done in the


He said that a free press is essential to the function of a

democracy. "That is something that will have to be worked out in Cambodia," he


He said that U.S. assistance to Cambodia would not waver, even

though the level of USAID funding is in jeopardy by some members of


"I think it would be one of the last programs Congress would

want to abandon," he said.

Earlier in the day, he announced the

disbursement of $12 million for ongoing USAID programs in Cambodia.


previously pledged funds were for an ongoing family health and birth spacing

program; the Cambodian assistance to primary education, the Technical Support

project, and the Democratic Initiatives project.

In addition he announced

10,000 tonnes of rice to be delivered to the World Food Program to help counter

Cambodia's food shortage this year.

The only uncertainty in the trip was

an on-again-off-again tour of Tuol Sleng, the school that became the Khmer

Rouge's most notorious torture prison.

More than 20,000 Cambodians were

executed there between 1975 and 1978. The visit to Tuol Sleng replaced a planned

visit to the Silver Pagoda. It was put on the schedule at the insistence of the

Washington press traveling with Christopher.

Pol Pot came up at lunch as

well. Christopher asked who among the group had spent the Khmer Rouge era in

Cambodia. Three had.

"I explained they killed my father before my eyes,"

said Kem Sokha. The others told similar tales of horror.

At the press

conference, Christopher said that U.S. leadership in Cambodia in the 1970s and

80s was perhaps "not satisfactory." Christopher was deputy secretary of state

during the Carter Administration in the late 70s. "No doubt with the benefit of

hindsight the United States could have done many things better in Cambodia."

He also briefly mentioned the need for Cambodia to be granted Most

Favored Nation and General System of Preferences status by the U.S. Congress.

The status, which would open U.S. markets to Cambodian goods by lowering and

eliminating tariffs on certain products, was "crucial to Cambodia's


He said both prime ministers had said they thought the first

priority was "to establish an economy that gives people something to live for."


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