Cablegate: Scenesetter for Das John's April 4-7 Visit To


DE RUEHPF #0491/01 0891018
O 301018Z MAR 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Eric, your visit to Cambodia comes roughly just
one month shy of a similar regional trip last year.
Remarkably, in the intervening period, there have been no
major bilateral problems and relations between our two
countries have continued to grow. Recent positive
developments and signs of strong USG commitment to Cambodia
include the opening of the Peace Corps office and arrival of
PC volunteers earlier this year (you will attend the
swearing-in ceremony on April 4), the Navy ship visit in
February (the first in three decades), the first-ever TIFA
bilateral talks also in February, the announcement that
Congressional restrictions on USG assistance to Cambodia
would be lifted in FY07, and a visiting U.S. business mission
-- the first in recent memory -- that will coincide with your
stay with us. Your meeting schedule this time will be
similar to last year's, with calls on both the Prime Minister
and Foreign Minister. The PM will be prepared to discuss
Burma with you; the MFA will likely raise APEC membership for
Cambodia as well as Cambodia's desire for a UNSC seat in 2013
-- both issues remain priorities for the RGC. Nationwide
Commune Council elections will have taken place before your
arrival, and you will have the opportunity to discuss the
preliminary results with a variety of actors. The Khmer
Rouge Tribunal is currently at an impasse over disagreements
between the international judges and the Cambodian Bar
Association over international defense lawyer fees and
accreditation with the Bar Association; this issue may not be
resolved by the time of your visit.

2. (SBU) While we have succeeded in promoting a broader
bilateral relationship with the RGC over the past year, we
have not made sufficient progress in moving the RGC towards
the more politically risky reforms in the democracy and
governance sector for which we and other donors have been
pressing over the last decade. Cambodia is also slipping on
its trafficking in persons performance and our renewed and
painstaking efforts to craft a productive
military-to-military relationship will be imperiled if the
RGC does not soon focus on our admonitions for improved
vigilance and falls back to Tier 3. Despite agreement in
2006 with Washington negotiators from Treasury, State, and
USDA on the outstanding bilateral debt owed to the United
States, the RGC has yet to sign the proposed draft agreement.
The RGC has consistently failed to finalize and pass
much-needed anti-corruption legislation nor is it clear that
the RGC intends to incorporate suggested changes by donors
that would ensure the law meets international standards.
Other key pieces of legislation (anti-TIP, counterterrorism,
money laundering, wholesale revisions of the criminal and
civil codes) that have been repeatedly promised to the donors
and Cambodian public have seen another year of continued RGC

3. (SBU) The US-Cambodian areas of traditional cooperation
remain strong: counterterrorism and intel-sharing, MIA
recovery, Amcit pedophile cases, health (HIV/AIDS and avian
influenza) and education. The U.S. market for Cambodian
textile exports is still a crucial part of Cambodia's
economy, representing 70% of the country's exports in this
key sector. The U.S. component of the garment industry
represents roughly one-third of the country's overall GDP and
we are Cambodia's chief trading partner. While we would also
like to see more direct U.S. investment in the country,
corruption and Cambodia's broken judicial system discourage
many investors. Chevron is involved in Cambodia's offshore
oil/gas exploration efforts, with 2009/2010 foreseen as the
beginning of serious exploitation of these resources. OPIC
provides assistance to a local bank for micro-financing
projects and recently conducted a monitoring visit; there
appears to be little Cambodian-American business interest in
aiding the country's development at the moment.

Cambodia as an International Actor

4. (SBU) With the domestic political situation under the
strong control of the PM's ruling party, Cambodia has begun
looking outward and seeks a more visible role in
international and regional affairs that is consistent with
the country's limited resources and capacity. The RGC has
sent peacekeepers to Sudan (a company of de-miners); during
the PM's visit to Australia, Hun Sen expressed RGC interest
(but no commitment as yet) in a gendarme platoon role in East
Timor. Cambodia supported Guatemala's bid for the UNSC seat
in 2006 and as a result of strong Japanese pressure, Cambodia
has agreed to support a human rights resolution against North
Korea at the UN.

5. (SBU) On Burma, the PM has taken a more critical public

stance over the regime's intransigence to democratic reforms.
The Cambodian National Assembly in July 2006 inaugurated a
Burma Caucus that included representatives from all three
parties. The participation (and blessing) of the ruling CPP
was instrumental in the launch of the Caucus; previously, the
PM and National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin were reticent
about being too forward leaning on Burma. Since its
inauguration, however, the Burma Caucus has been largely
inactive. Moreover, the Cambodian government did not back
the U.S. position during late 2006 in the UN Third Committee
on the human rights situation in Burma. RGC officials
explained that Cambodia, similar to the position taken by
most other ASEAN countries, wanted to give Burma one last
chance to respond to the concerns of the international
community. A senior MFA official noted that Cambodia needed
to maintain a "flexible" position on Burma. During PDAS
Stephens' January 2007 meeting with the PM, Hun Sen allowed
that he planned to visit Burma at the regime's invitation in
spring or early summer, and offered to incorporate USG views
in his discussions. Your meeting with the PM will be an
opportunity to compare notes on the PM's plans; we have
provided a briefing paper outlining the USG position on human
rights and democracy in Burma.

Keeping Political Space Open, Human Rights Are Priorities
--------------------------------------------- ------------

6. (SBU) The level of political violence in Cambodia has
fallen since the early 1990s, but there remain serious
concerns regarding human rights and democratization. Like
other countries in the region, Cambodia's leaders have used
its weak and easily influenced judiciary to pursue legal
cases against critics and the political opposition. While
criminal defamation is no longer a viable weapon for
silencing dissent, other legal provisions concerning
disinformation and incitement remain on the books and have
been used in the past year against journalists and others the
government has wished to silence. The PM has had a very
public falling out with the UNSYG's Special Rapporteur for
Human Rights for Cambodia, Kenyan constitutional lawyer Yash
Ghai, due to what the PM considers as unduly harsh criticism
of the human rights situation in Cambodia. The PM also
suggested that the UN close its local human rights office.
In addition to meetings with NGOs, you will have separate
meetings with opposition leader Sam Rainsy and newly
announced political leader Kem Sokha (former human rights
leader jailed in December 2005 and then released on January
17) about prospects for democracy in Cambodia.

7. (SBU) The U.S. and other international observers from
diplomatic missions will monitor the local commune council
elections on April 1; preliminary results should be available
at the time of your visit. While some diplomats have
dismissed the commune elections as unimportant, commune
councilors indirectly select the country's village chiefs as
well as the members of the Senate. The April 1 elections are
also widely viewed by the political parties as a predictor of
how voters will cast their ballots in next year's national
elections in July 2008. Cambodia's previous three national
elections have shown improvement during each five-year cycle,
with diminishing levels of political violence, but
intimidation and vote-buying continue to be problematic.
Media coverage is limited to the ruling party and there are
no campaign finance restrictions. Prince Norodom Ranariddh's
October 2006 ouster from the FUNCINPEC party, his creation of
a new party (and its success in fielding commune candidates
for the majority of the country's 1,621 communes in the space
of a few months, and absence from the country due to
politically motivated lawsuits have marred the April 1
elections. The PM and the CPP remain intent on driving
members of the royal family from politics, and are likely to
propose legislation prior to the 2008 elections that bars
royals from politics.

Corruption Remains Endemic

8. (SBU) In 2006, Transparency International ranked
Cambodia 151 out of 163 countries in its corruption
perceptions index; Burma was the only country in Asia ranked
lower than Cambodia. There has been continued and widespread
land grabbing by government officials and the politically
well-connected. Uprooted communities from outside Phnom Penh
trying to seek government redress are often prevented from
traveling to the city to draw media and public attention to
their plights. Enactment of an anti-corruption law has
dragged on for years, with the government showing little
inclination to adopt legislation that would lead to strong
enforcement. This failure, along with a corrupt and

politicized judiciary, has prevented Cambodia from attracting
foreign direct investment. Cambodia's competitiveness
ranking (103 out of 125 in 2006) is also one of the lowest in
the world, again due largely to perceived systemic
corruption. Rather than embrace the reforms that would
garner increased investment and the new jobs that would be
created, the RGC appears to be banking on the future income
from its as-yet-untapped oil and gas reserves, which should
come on stream after 2009. Donors are concerned that the
current corrupt political environment will lead to misuse of
future revenues that are badly needed to reduce poverty in
the country, and you will have an opportunity to hear views
from the leading IFI representatives in Cambodia on the
oil/gas issue.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Impasse

9. (SBU) The Khmer Rouge Tribunal, formally known as the
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), has
obtained funding from UN member nations, and was poised to
begin to issue indictments beginning in December 2006.
However, the ECCC's Cambodian and international judges have
had difficulties since a disastrous plenary session in
November 2006 in agreeing on internal rules governing the
Tribunal's functions and authorities. Meanwhile, the
potential defendants continue to age, with one, Ta Mok,
having died in the past year.

10. (SBU) In January 2006, the ECCC's internal rules review
committee (comprised of international and Cambodian judges)
agreed on most outstanding differences regarding the draft
rules, and a second successful meeting on March 16 suggested
that all points of controversy had been resolved.
Nevertheless, the international judges announced in March
that they would not agree to a plenary to adopt the draft
rules unless the CBA agreed to rescind its suggested (and
exorbitant) fee schedule for foreign defense counsel,
claiming that few international lawyers would agree to pay
the high rates thereby lowering the pool of available defense
counsel and undermining defendant's right to competent
counsel. In addition, a potential scandal hangs over the
Tribunal amidst accusations of corruption and kickbacks on
the Cambodian side. The international monitoring NGO, the
Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), broke the story in
February in referencing an ongoing UNDP audit, and created a
firestorm of controversy within the court and with the
Cambodian government. RGC threats that the government might
eject the NGO from Cambodia appear to be on the wane, but
donors and international judges have indicated that any RGC
interference with the NGO's monitoring role could be a
violation of the UN/RGC agreement establishing the Tribunal.

© Scoop Media

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