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10PHNOMPENH103 DAS MARCIEL REVIEWS U.S. POLICY WITH GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION, CIVIL SOCIETY

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“248568”,”2/12/2010 10:19″,”10PHNOMPENH103″,

“Embassy Phnom Penh”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

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INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

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“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04

PHNOM PENH 000103

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/10/2020

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PBTS, MARR, TH, CB

SUBJECT: DAS MARCIEL REVIEWS U.S. POLICY WITH GOVERNMENT,

OPPOSITION, CIVIL SOCIETY

 

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 89 (ICC)

B. 09 PHNOM PENH 960 (UIGHURS)

 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR CAROL A. RODLEY FOR REASONS 1.4 (B, D)

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. In a wide range of meetings with Cambodian

officials, opposition party members, NGOs and civil society,

Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Scot Marciel spotlighted stepped-up engagement by the United

States in Cambodia while highlighting specific issues such as

the Uighur deportation, bilateral debt, Preah Vihear, the

Anti-Corruption Law, and resolution of the Cambodian-Thai

border dispute. Both DPM Sok An and FM Hor Namhong renewed

the Cambodian commitment to settle the dispute with Thailand

peacefully. Sok An detailed Cambodian claims to the Preah

Vihear temple area, and Hor Namhong expressed appreciation

for increased U.S. participation in the region, including the

Lower Mekong Initiative. He also extended an invitation for

the Secretary to visit on the occasion of the 60th

anniversary of diplomatic relations in July. Economic

experts highlighted concerns about sustainable economic

growth and macroeconomic stability, particularly in light of

the expected closure of the IMF office in Cambodia this year.

Opposition parliamentarians were less downbeat about

identified deficiencies in Cambodia\’s tighter political

space, and more deliberate in identifying actions they could

take to improve the situation. In meetings with civil

society, the Uighurs, Sam Rainsy\’s conviction, and a proposed

NGO law figured prominently. DAS Marciel spoke on U.S.

foreign policy in the region to 400 university students, who,

in a spirited exchange, demonstrated that Cambodia\’s youth is

a vibrant reminder of the promise of Cambodia\’s future. END

SUMMARY.

 

Debt and Impact of Uighur Decision

———————————-

 

2. (C) Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs

Hor Namhong reiterated his request to Secretary Clinton to

reschedule bilateral debt, suggesting now that 70% of the

debt be diverted to development assistance and that 30% would

be repaid. DAS Marciel outlined the legal obstacles to debt

forgiveness, and indicated that the process was complicated

further by Cambodia\’s recent decision to deport 20 Uighur

asylum seekers to China (Ref B). Stating that there was

great concern in the administration and Congress regarding

the decision, DAS Marciel maintained that the question of

debt relief for Cambodia had become much more difficult as a

result, since the deportation raised questions about how

Cambodia will handle future asylum seekers. Hor Namhong

responded by stating that \”many factors\” were considered

prior to returning the Uighurs, but in the end, it was

determined that they were \”not refugees because there is no

war in China.\” Additionally, he claimed that the Uighurs\’

passage from China to Cambodia was orchestrated by an

organization in the U.S. and that if they were allowed to

stay, more would follow, creating a situation that Cambodia

is not equipped to handle.

 

ASEAN and the UN

—————-

 

3. (SBU) Stating that the U.S. is committed to building a

strong relationship with ASEAN, DAS Marciel noted that a

Resident Representative of the U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN

Affairs recently arrived in Jakarta to establish a Permanent

Mission. Hor Namhong stated that ASEAN is pleased about the

United State\’s increased interest in the region and declared

that there are only two alternatives for the next ASEAN-U.S.

summit – Vietnam or the United States. Noting that Asia is

moving in the right direction with closer cooperation,

increased trade, and enhanced security, Hor Namhong expressed

frustration that initiatives such as Australia\’s Asia Pacific

Community (APC) result in duplication of existing frameworks

such as that of APEC, ARF, EAS, and ASEAN. Hor Namhong

stated that Cambodia is supportive of U.S. participation in

existing communities, such as EAS, but indicated the timing

of the APC is not right nor is its role in the region clear.

(NOTE: Hor Namhong\’s comments on the APC echo similar public

statements made by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January. END

NOTE.)

 

4. (SBU) Hor Namhong then appealed to the U.S. for support of

Cambodia\’s 2012 bid to become a non-permanent member of the

UN Security Council in 2013, which has ASEAN\’s support.

Given its history of UN involvement, Cambodia is well placed

to sit on the Council and share knowledge with other members,

he urged. DAS Marciel responded that Cambodia\’s experiences

 

PHNOM PENH 00000103 002 OF 004

 

would certainly bring an important perspective to UNSC

deliberations.

 

Burma Elections in May?

———————–

 

5. (C) Expressing his appreciation of the new U.S. policy on

Burma, Hor Namhong indicated that Burma is interested in

working with the United States. and would like to join the

Lower Mekong Initiative. He stated that the Burmese FM told

the Cambodian Ambassador recently that elections will be held

in May 2010, and that ten political parties, including Aung

San Suu Kyi\’s, would be allowed to participate.

Additionally, the Burmese government has requested that ASEAN

send election observers. According to Hor Namhong, during a

closed-door meeting at the ASEAN summit, member nations urged

Burmese officials to hold credible and democratic elections.

Agreeing that the election would indeed be an opportunity for

progress, DAS Marciel expressed concern that opposition

leaders are unable to campaign and much work is required

before a truly free and fair election can be held.

 

Thailand and Image

——————–

 

6. (C) Given the recent verbal exchanges between Prime

Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Abhist Vejjajiva,

DAS Marciel expressed concern that in addition to raising

tensions in the region, such combative public comments are

hurting both countries\’ international images and could

negatively impact tourism and investment. Hor Namhong stated

that Cambodia is committed to normalizing relations with

Thailand, that the \”Thaksin issue\” should be set aside, and

focus should instead be on solving the border dispute. He

further stated that \”Cambodia cannot accept Thailand\’s claim

to Cambodian territory, and Thailand won\’t withdraw the

claim, so the only way to settle is through legal means.\”

(Note: In recent speeches, PM Hun Sen has indicated a desire

to take the issue to the ICJ and the UNSC. End Note.)

 

Improved Bilateral Relations

—————————–

 

7. (SBU) The FM expressed appreciation for improved

U.S.-Cambodian relations during the last few years. He

specifically thanked the U.S. for support in the areas of

health, education, demining, economic development, and local

administration reforms. Hor Namhong also discussed the work

of a joint commission which is planning events to commemorate

the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S.

and Cambodia to include bilateral agreements, MOUs and

cultural programs. In that context, he extended an

invitation to Secretary of State Clinton to visit Cambodia in

July, when a series of bilateral agreements could be signed.

DAS Marciel credited the Cambodian government for increased

development of the country, thanked Cambodia for its support

in recent UNGA votes which were appreciated by the United

States, and congratulated the FM on his initiative to

position Cambodia as one of the first countries to associate

itself with the Copenhagen Accord.

 

Sok An: Up on Preah Vihear, Down on Thai \”Invasion\”

——————————————— ——

 

8. (SBU) Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Council

of Ministers Sok An highlighted recent successes with the

Khmer Rouge Tribunal (septel) and the extension of a Chevron

agreement to exploit oil and gas resources in the offshore

Block A in Cambodian territorial waters. On the

Cambodian-Vietnamese border demarcation process, Sok An noted

that it is possible the border line that is being drawn in

principle according to maps and agreed rules may cut through

the rice fields of both Cambodians and Vietnamese, who then

find themselves theoretically on the wrong side of the

border. \”We are seeking an appropriate solution,\” he stated.

Turning to the Thai border and drawing on a six-inch pile of

maps, documents, and brochures, Sok An gave a blow-by-blow

account of the inviolability of Cambodian claims to Preah

Vihear and the surrounding territory based on the 1962 ICJ

decision, the irreversibility of the 2008 UNESCO inscription

of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site, and the

indisputably uncooperative attitudes of the Thai by, among

other acts of arrogance and slights to Cambodia, invading

Cambodian sovereign territory on July 15, 2008.

 

9. (SBU) Sok An reviewed recent Cambodian achievements with

the Preah Vihear world heritage site development plan, noting

the construction of new access roads and an East-facing

 

PHNOM PENH 00000103 003 OF 004

 

staircase up the escarpment to the mountain temple. An

eco-village for 300 families who had been re-located was

already far along and a market at the foot of the temple

entrance re-designed. The RGC had already spent $99 million

in the area of Preah Vihear and around the border, he stated.

As an International Coordinating Committee (ICC) is formed

(Ref A), Cambodia is inviting the United States to join and

perhaps even co-chair the ICC, he said. When asked about the

UNESCO requirement that Thailand be invited to join the Preah

Vihear ICC, Sok An said that he was \”very reluctant\” to

include them. He noted first that this condition had been

imposed in early July, before the \”Thai invasion\” and,

secondly, the Thai behavior at a recent Angkor Wat ICC —

when a delegation packed with Thai MFA members did not want

to join in the technical preservation discussion but wanted

to raise political issues — had shown that the Thai could

not be trusted to make a positive contribution. DAS Marciel

said that the U.S. would look seriously at playing a role in

the Preah Vihear ICC, but urged the RGC to continue to work

together with Thailand to ease bilateral tensions.

 

Anti-Corruption Law

——————-

 

10. (SBU) DPM Sok An confirmed that the Council of Ministers

had recently transmitted to the National Assembly the draft

Anti-Corruption Law (ACL) for its consideration. Now that

the four basic laws related to civil and penal codes and

procedures were in place, and given an influx of a younger

cadre of judges capable of understanding these

inter-dependent laws, Sok An was confident that the

government was ready to work on an Anti-Corruption Law. He

said the RGC would build three pillars of support for a new

law: education, law enforcement, and mass support. The RGC

now realized the importance of mass support because, when a

case of corruption is brought against individuals, they \”do

everything to fight\” it, he said. He cited Hong Kong and

Singapore as the best models for Cambodia and noted that the

former RCAF headquarters compound would be transformed into

an Anti-Corruption Institute. Noting continued U.S. support

for an ACL, and remarking that any effort to tackle the

difficult issue of corruption must have the strong support of

the leadership, DAS Marciel noted the United States looked

forward to its passage.

 

Opposition Politics

——————-

 

11. (SBU) In a meeting with Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians

Mu Sochua and Son Chhay and Human Rights Party MP Ou

Chanrith, DAS Marciel emphasized U.S. commitment to stepping

up its engagement with the Cambodian government to support

democracy, good governance, and the rule of law. While

initially predicting a dire future for democracy and a

diminished role for the opposition, the MPs still held out a

vision for their own role to reform institutions in Cambodia.

All three had clear proposals for future activities funded

by U.S. assistance: organize more voter forums at the local

level; assist with reform measures such as implementation of

an impending Anti-Corruption Law; support fair coverage of

the opposition in the mainstream media; and strengthen USG

support for \”alternative media\” such as RFA and VOA, which

give the opposition more balanced radio air time. Son Chhay

urged the USG to use its position of influence not just to

\”sweet talk\” the RGC but to advocate that it take more

seriously its human rights obligations. SRP Mu Sochua urged

the U.S. to review the \”quality of assistance\” in the

maternal health area so that aid dollars resulted in the

desired reduction of maternal mortality. (NOTE: At about 470

per 100,000 live births, Cambodia\’s maternal mortality rate

is among the highest in the region. END NOTE.) DAS Marciel

assured the opposition leaders that, in addition to paying

attention to issues they raised, the U.S. was concerned about

the political space in Cambodia and had bluntly raised those

concerns with the government.

 

The NGO Perspective

——————-

 

12. (SBU) Speculation about a proposed NGO Law dominated DAS

Marciel\’s discussion with civil society representatives about

the overall health of civil society in Cambodia. One

representative captured attention with his claim that \”there

is no civil society in Cambodia anymore,\” predicting that

Cambodia will soon become like Vietnam, where he believed the

government allowed NGOs to work on economic and development

issues, but prohibited advocacy. Most agreed that while

there are many NGOs providing services in Cambodia, the other

 

PHNOM PENH 00000103 004 OF 004

 

elements of civil society, particularly those that advocate

for government change — such as unions, journalists,

opposition parties, and advocacy organizations — are

operating in an increasingly challenging environment. They

voiced deep concern about a proposed NGO Law, and speculated

that the new law will require all NGOs currently operating in

Cambodia to re-register, presenting an opportunity for the

RGC to disapprove particular organizations it dislikes. The

independence and credibility of the judiciary also came under

attack when DAS Marciel raised the issue of Sam Rainsy\’s

conviction for incitement and property destruction.

Representatives criticized the government for using the

courts to settle its political scores, with once noting that

independent of the politics and legal questions involved, he

believed the court acted \”inappropriately\” in intervening in

the situation, and that courts \”should not be used as a tool

for silencing debate.\”

 

13. (SBU) Civil society representatives were also sharply

critical of the government\’s decision to deport 20 Uighurs in

December. Christophe Peschoux, the Representative of the UN

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR),

stated that mid-level officials in the RGC wanted to and were

prepared to adhere to Cambodia\’s commitments under the 1951

Refugee Convention, but were overruled by officials at the

highest level at the last minute. Peschoux noted that the

past system of refugee protection in Cambodia had been

effective, albeit with its \”ups and downs,\” but that the

Uighur deportation \”shattered\” this perception of efficacy

and credibility. He remarked that the Ministry of Interior

will have to take specific corrective actions in order to

regain the confidence of civil society. Other

representatives expressed disappointment in the role played

by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and agreed

that the presence and capability of UNHCR also needed review

and augmentation.

 

Cambodian Youth Inquisitive of U.S. Policy

——————————————

 

14. (SBU) DAS Marciel summarized U.S. foreign policy in the

ASEAN region and in Cambodia to a packed auditorium of 400

students at Pannasastra University. His remarks prompted a

slew of questions, with students curious to learn more about

the U.S. government\’s decision to enhance its engagement with

ASEAN and the U.S. role in addressing the challenges of

climate change. Several students sought DAS Marciel\’s candid

assessment of politics and democracy in Cambodia, revealing a

sophisticated understanding of the challenges to

strengthening democratic institutions in Cambodia and a

proactive style in addressing the issues of the day.

 

Economic Challenges Ahead

————————-

 

15. (SBU) Economic experts, including country directors from

the World Bank, IMF, and Asia Development Bank, explained

that Cambodia\’s narrowly-based economy contracted by

approximately 2 percent in 2009 as a result of the global

economic crisis, declining significantly from the remarkable

near 10 percent growth of the past decade. They described

Cambodia at a crossroads, with the path leading to

sustainable growth dependent on the leadership\’s ability to

make the right decisions on key policies affecting public

financial management and responsible use of its natural

resources. While acknowledging that investment in

infrastructure development and the agriculture sector is

necessary to diversify the economic base, they expressed

concern about the long-term cost of some development

assistance in these sectors. In particular, the IMF

representative stated that the terms of financing for the USD

1.3 billion in loans provided by China in 2008 and 2009,

primary for infrastructure development, are unclear, raising

significant concerns about Cambodia\’s debt sustainability.

The experts all agreed that the timing of the closure of the

IMF office in Cambodia (expected in April of this year) is

unfortunate, coinciding with significant macroeconomic

challenges facing the country, such as balance of payments

and sustainability of the debt, and urged the U.S. to

encourage the IMF to review its decision.

 

16. DAS Marciel did not have an opportunity to clear this

cable.

RODLEY

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:47 am

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