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Cablegate: Das Marciel Reviews U.S. Policy with Government,

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



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

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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

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

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

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