Cablegate: Scenesetter for D's Visit: A Maturing Cambodia?

DE RUEHPF #0735/01 2471039
O 031039Z SEP 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: (A) PHNOM PENH 516; (B) STATE 77799; (C) 07 PHNOM PENH 1500;
(D) 07 PHNOM PENH 1541


1. (SBU) Summary: In his departure cable, "Seven Significant
Failures", outgoing Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli framed the
U.S.-Cambodia relationship as hovering on the brink of a
transformation: better than it has ever been, but with clearly
identifiable areas for improvement. In the weeks since that cable
was drafted, two events give additional perspective to the question
of where Cambodia is headed. Like the U.S.-Cambodian relationship,
the July 27 National Assembly election was better than any
previous--but still below international standards. Meanwhile,
Cambodia's leadership is displaying a new maturity in its handling
of an ongoing border dispute with Thailand. This maturity, so far,
has been echoed in its muted response to opposition parties'
election critiques. Your visit is the highest-level State visit
here since Secretary Powell's participation in the 2003 ASEAN
Regional Forum. It builds on A/S Hill's January 2006 trip, as well
as DAS Marciel's January 2008 participation in the first
U.S.-Cambodian dialogue. Your visit is an opportunity to reassure
Cambodia's leaderships that we have favorably noted improvements.
Simultaneously, we want to send the message that their recent
election victory presents increased opportunities for the new
government-and for U.S.-Cambodian relations--but also amplifies
international expectations that Cambodia will move beyond its
war-torn past and prioritize the development needs of its
population. End Summary.


2. (SBU) The U.S.-Cambodia relationship is better than it has ever
been. We enjoy Cambodia's cooperation on counterterrorism efforts,
law enforcement issues and POW/MIA matters. Our growing mil-mil
relationship led to the holding of the first Bilateral Defense
Dialogue August 26-28 (a proposal first raised when PACOM Admiral
Keating visited last year.) The USS Mustin is expected to dock in
Cambodia in early October. This will be the third ship visit in 16
months, after a 30-year hiatus. The ships, as well as medical,
dental and engineering outreach, have been warmly received including
in very remote parts of Cambodia. USG assistance to Cambodia,
currently more than $61.6 million annually, is fueling cooperation
on HIV/AIDS and avian influenza, health care for children and
expectant mothers, cultural preservation, and humanitarian demining.
Cambodia provides temporary haven and a processing site for
Montagnard refugees, as well as another more politically sensitive
refugee caseload. The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has a good
record of supporting U.S. positions in the UN, contributes deminers
to the UN in southern Sudan, and recently began participating in the
Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). In a decision which
significantly increases its multilateral military engagement,
Cambodia has agreed to host the GPOI capstone exercise in 2010. As
Cambodia's impressive economic growth continues, more U.S.
businesses are exploring opportunities, although they still fall far
behind investors from South Korea, China, and the region.


3. (SBU) Cambodia's July 27 National Assembly election was the
country's third parliamentary exercise following the 1993 poll
conducted by the UN Transitional Administration (UNTAC) under the
terms of the Paris Peace Agreement. The 1998 election was conducted
in the aftermath of a short, violent CPP-led coup against coalition
partner FUNCINPEC. It took more than a year to form a government
after the next election, in 2003. The evaluation that this year's
polling was the best yet could thus be framed by some as damning
with faint praise. That said, a significant number of Cambodians
participated in an election-day process that was conducted in a
peaceful and open manner with professional conduct by most election
staff. International observers, including 47 teams from the
embassy, traveled freely around the country to observe pre-election
campaigning and the election itself. Although some irregularities
persist, they were relatively low in number and they do not appear
to have affected the outcome or to have distorted the will of the
Cambodian people. Representatives from five different parties have
been elected to serve in the National Assembly.

4. (SBU) The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) invested massive
resources to get out to voters in the provinces, capitalizing on
their positions within government to convey a message that CPP
delivers (infrastructure, schools, and roads). The 58 percent of
the popular vote-translating to 90 seats in the 123-seat National
Assembly-won by CPP is directly linked to this well-organized,
well-financed, sustained effort. A divided and multitudinous
opposition split the anti-CPP vote and quite probably confused
voters (for example, two parties competed for Royalist sympathizers

PHNOM PENH 00000735 002 OF 003

while four parties had Amcits in senior leadership roles).
Post-election, four parties protested the results, but two-FUNCINPEC
and the Norodohm Randariddh Party (NRP)-are now seeking a coalition
with CPP. This leaves two parties as the serious opposition: the
Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) which won 26 seats and the Human Rights Party
(HRP) with three. They are threatening to boycott the September 24
opening of the National Assembly, but told us privately that they
would join, if they could be sworn in by the King in a ceremony
separate from CPP, FUNCINPEC and NRP. We have suggested to them
that the more important thing on which to focus is the role(s)
opposition parliamentarians can play in Assembly structures and
committees, ensuring that their significant voter base is fairly
represented. Among our medium-term goals will be further efforts to
address election process shortfalls, strengthen the sense of
parties' accountability to their voters, and support press freedoms
and the right to demonstrate peacefully.


5. (SBU) The mid-July movement of Thai soldiers into disputed
territory thrust the temple of Preah Vihear into the international
spotlight. Just weeks before, the World Heritage Committee (WHC)
had agreed to Cambodia's request to register the 9th century,
cliffside temple as a site of outstanding universal value. As Ref B
explains, the unanimous WHC decision was the result of a sustained
and serious Cambodian lobbying effort. The fact that Cambodia had
made (eventually thwarted) efforts to negotiate an MOU with Thailand
also was perceived favorably by WHC members. Post continues to be
concerned by the ongoing stalemate and presence of armed soldiers in
and around a pagoda near the temple site. Equally worrying, two
additional border temples at Ta Moan have become hotspots. But, we
believe that the RGC's handling of its quest to register Preah
Vihear temple (which was awarded to Cambodia by a 1962 ICJ
decision), its dignified response following the registration, and
its handling of the Thai incursion merit note, especially against
the backdrop of a national election during which playing a bellicose
card predictably would have rallied support to CPP. In a number of
areas, we have noted more restrained and more open reactions from
Cambodia's leaders, most notably Hun Sen. Whether it is allowing a
demonstration (Ref C), engaging with critical NGOs such as Freedom
House (Ref D), or accepting an FBI offer of assistance in a murder
investigation, the RGC seems to be reacting more maturely.


6. (SBU) The U.S.'s harshest criticisms of Cambodia all spiral back
to three things: weak systems - in many cases the fruit of the Khmer
Rouge period; endemic corruption; and a sense that the wealthy or
powerful can operate with impunity. These problems are the root of
Cambodia's continued human rights problems, including those linked
to unclear land title in a burgeoning real estate market. They
still deter U.S. businesses, which worry about investing when
regulatory frameworks are weak and informal networks abound. They
slow our engagement with the military, who face accusations ranging
from human rights abuses to illegal logging. And, while a concerted
government effort has improved Cambodia's trafficking in persons
standing, mixed messages based on individual judicial decisions make
some pedophiles and other criminal elements believe Cambodia is safe
territory for their pursuits.

7. (SBU) A still-outstanding question is whether the Khmer Rouge
Tribunal can strengthen rule of law here. The U.S. is on the
threshold of funding, and we hope that you may be able to announce
an initial tranche during your visit. Administrative problems,
directly linked to the corruption endemic in Cambodia, trouble the
court and are a continued focus of donor and UN attention. But, the
first case is set for trial soon and already Cambodian judges
participating in the mixed tribunal seem to have acquired a greater
comfort in enforcing politically unpopular positions-and to believe
that they have the space to do so. The country as a whole is
watching the Tribunal, and many believe that finally ending the
impunity that Tuol Sleng chief Duch, Brother Number Two Nuon Chea
and others enjoyed for nearly thirty years is the starting point to
tackle these hardest of challenges. We are encouraged to move ahead
for two reasons: first, the long-suffering people of Cambodia
deserve the best-possible chance; second, all of the progress in the
other areas described by this cable will stall, if we cannot-working
with the government and people of Cambodia-address these three root

8. (SBU) Your meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign
Minister Hor Namhong; discussions with opposition parties, economic
leaders, and civil society; and briefings on the election and the
Khmer Rouge Tribunal will provide key opportunities to note the
areas of improvement described in this cable. While discussing how
their recent election victory presents increased opportunities for
the new government-and for U.S.-Cambodia relations, you can

PHNOM PENH 00000735 003 OF 003

reinforce expectations that Cambodia will move beyond its war-torn
past and prioritize the development needs of its population. Eight
local newspapers have already run stories on your planned visit, and
press and local interest is high.


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