Stanley O. Roth, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "Situation in Cambodia" Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Washington, DC, October 2, 1998


"Situation in Cambodia"

Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to address the
subcommittee on the situation in Cambodia. That troubled country
is once again at a critical juncture, so I appreciate this
opportunity to update the subcommittee on recent developments and
consult with you on how best to move forward.

When I last testified on Cambodia before this subcommittee in
June, progress had been made in moving Cambodia towards July
elections. Opposition leaders were back in-country and operating
freely; all political parties had been granted freedom to
campaign; election and party laws had been passed; an election
commission had been established; the requisite constitutional and
magistracy councils had been set up; international observers had
been invited to monitor the election process; and voter
registration was in full swing. In short, a framework -- albeit
an imperfect one -- was in place in Cambodia in which meaningful
elections could be held.

The United States, in concert with ASEAN and other partners, had
worked hard to bring Cambodia to that point, pressing all parties
to take steps to create the conditions for free, fair and
credible elections. Despite progress achieved, however, two
questions remained unanswered as Cambodia moved into the official
campaign period. First, would opposition figures be granted media
access for their campaigns?  And second, would the climate of
fear and intimidation which had prevailed since the bloody
factional fighting of June 1997 persist?

Despite the intense efforts of the international community,
neither of these issues was ever adequately resolved. While the
opposition had substantial access to print media for the purpose
of their campaigns, TV and radio were essentially monopolized by
the ruling CPP. And while the climate of political intimidation
had eased from earlier months, the UN documented dozens of human
rights abuses in the run-up to the vote, including beatings,
arrests, and worst of all, extrajudicial killings.

As the July 26 election date drew near, these flaws threatened to
invalidate the entire process. Many observers essentially wrote
off the possibility of a free and fair election, and the
international community braced for a worst-case scenario of
violence and chaos on election day. Despite the widespread
pessimism, however, Cambodians turned out in record numbers to
cast their ballots, demonstrating both a deep desire for a voice
in their future and their continued faith in the electoral
process. Moreover, almost 16,000 domestic and international poll
monitors on the ground concurred that barring one deadly attack
by Khmer Rouge terrorists on poll officials, Cambodians cast
their votes in an environment that was peaceful, orderly, and
free from intimidation.

The election results indicate that Cambodians indeed voted
freely: some six out of ten voters chose a party other than the
ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). It may be useful to note,
Mr. Chairman, that had the opposition unified prior to the
elections, they, and not Hun Sen's CPP, would have primary
responsibility for forming a new government. Still, while in the
end Hun Sen's CPP won a plurality of the vote, the fact that
almost 60% of votes were cast for the opposition clearly
demonstrates that efforts aimed at intimidating the Cambodian
electorate failed.

This was the good news of this election. Unfortunately, a
conflict-ridden post-election period has threatened to overshadow
this achievement. After the July 26 vote, opposition figures
raised charges of vote fraud and manipulation of the formula for
apportioning parliamentary seats. While the NEC and the
constitutional councils adjudicated some of the opposition's
initial claims, these bodies summarily dismissed a substantial
number of recount requests and refused to address the seat
allotment controversy. It is true that initial recounts carried
out by the NEC substantiated the original vote and proved many
opposition allegations frivolous; still, wholesale rejection of
the opposition's claims of irregularities is not a credible
position, particularly in light of support for some of those
claims by independent NGOs and observers.

In abdicating their responsibility to resolve all post-election
disputes, the Cambodian electoral authorities lost a major
opportunity to strengthen the credibility of the election process
and renew the Cambodian people's faith in their national
institutions. Nonetheless, we must recognize that in the judgment
of most international observers, proper completion of the
recounts would not have significantly altered the outcome or
deprived the CPP of its plurality. The limited recounts thus far
conducted showed no substantial change in numbers, and a parallel
vote conducted by the independent Cambodian NGO (COMFREL) which
fielded over 15,000 poll watchers also tallied a clear CPP
plurality.

Whither Cambodia?

The obvious question, Mr. Chairman, is where do we go from here?
Two things clearly need to happen if this electoral process is to
be brought to closure and Cambodia is to get on with the urgent
task of national reconstruction: legitimate electoral disputes
must be appropriately adjudicated, and the parties must, pursuant
to the provisions of the Cambodian constitution, negotiate a
coalition government which reflects the will of the people as
expressed through their vote. Hun Sen's initial attempts to form
a government with the opposition were simply not acceptable,
having offered only token appointments to the opposition while
retaining all major ministries for the CPP. At the same time, the
opposition's efforts to provoke a constitutional crisis by
refusing to seat the Parliament by the September 24 deadline were
counterproductive, serving only to escalate tensions and threaten
instability.

U.S. policy throughout this tumultuous post-election period has
been clear and consistent: we have called for a thorough vetting
of all legitimate electoral disputes by the bodies charged with
such duties; negotiations toward a genuine power sharing
arrangement; and restraint on the part of all parties lest
Cambodia once again explode in chaos. Ambassador Quinn repeatedly
stressed these points to both the government and the opposition
in Phnom Penh and made numerous interventions with key government
leaders in a largely successful effort to minimize violence and
encourage restraint.

Indeed, against a backdrop of escalating protests and
increasingly provocative actions from all sides, Ambassador Quinn
played a key role in averting even greater bloodshed, providing
assistance to political leaders at risk and defusing explosive
confrontations between the opposition and the police -- many of
which took place right in front of the American Embassy in Phnom
Penh.

The international community has also gotten involved. As it
became clear that the electoral process was in danger of
disintegrating into a violent, undemocratic outcome, various
friends of Cambodia abandoned their initial reluctance to
intervene and joined the United States in reengaging Cambodia.
Japan, the UN and Thailand made multiple interventions with the
King and other players -- interventions which ultimately led to
the successful meeting of the opposition and the CPP with King
Sihanouk on September 22 and the convening of the National
Assembly on September 24. These meetings helped to initiate a
negotiating process that at least offers the possibility that a
coalition government may be formed that reflects the election
results.

While the situation appears more hopeful than just a few weeks
ago, Mr. Chairman, events are moving quickly and the future
remains uncertain. We are thus working on a day-to-day basis to
deal with threats -- including those to the personal safety of
opposition politicians -- as they arise, while continuing to push
our overall objective of a genuine power-sharing arrangement. Can
the parties work out such an arrangement?  And if they do, will
it work?

Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, it's too early to tell. The relevant
parties sat down together on September 29 and will meet again in
the next few days to continue negotiations. Hun Sen, moreover,
lifted the travel ban on most politicians, a fact evidenced by
the recent arrival in Washington of opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Still, despite these encouraging signs, we simply don't know what
lies ahead.

Ultimately, only the Cambodians themselves can determine their
own fate and future. Nonetheless, together with our like-minded
international partners, we are making every effort to move this
process forward. Last week, Secretary Albright used the occasion
of the UN General Assembly to organize a meeting of interested
parties to discuss the situation in Cambodia. I am pleased to
report that this meeting produced an overwhelming consensus to
both stay engaged in Cambodia and withhold UN credentials until a
credible government is formed. In a separate meeting, the ASEAN
foreign ministers affirmed their commitment to this approach,
adding that ASEAN membership will be postponed until Cambodia's
domestic situation is resolved.

The next few days and weeks will be crucial. When and if a new
government acceptable to the Cambodian people is formed, we will
want to consult with the subcommittee on our long-term Cambodia
policy, particularly as to what more we can do to address
Cambodia's pressing humanitarian needs and strengthen its civil
society. Let me conclude by saying, Mr. Chairman, that we
appreciate the leadership the Congress and the Senate in
particular have demonstrated on Cambodia throughout this
tumultuous period. The recent letter to Hun Sen by Senators
McCain and Kerry, urging Hun Sen to take responsible steps that
will move the process of national reconciliation in Cambodia
forward, is just one example of the many constructive efforts you
and your colleagues have made. We thank you for your engagement
and your leadership, and look forward to close and cooperative
consultation with the subcommittee as events unfold.


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