U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/09/21 Testimony: Winston Lord on Cambodia
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

TESTIMONY BY WINSTON LORD
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE
FOR
EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS

BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

SEPTEMBER 21, 1995

CAMBODIA

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I welcome the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the current situation in Cambodia.

Today, September 21, Cambodians celebrate the second anniversary of the promulgation of their constitution, which established a multiparty democracy pledged to respect internationally recognized human rights. Cambodia embarked on the path to democracy with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which brought peace to the country after two decades of war and the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian people marked a new stage in their history with the country's first free and fair elections in May 1993, leading to the formation of the current coalition government.

Now, two years later, Cambodia's emerging democracy continues to show impressive endurance. The Royal Cambodian Government has begun the process of building political and economic institutions suitable to the country's current needs, and is actively developing its economy and infrastructure. The country today is more open to the outside world than it has been for decades. Indigenous human rights groups and a vigorous press have become fundamental parts of society. Cambodia gained observer status at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July, and hopes to obtain full membership by 1997. Cambodia has also joined the ASEAN Regional Forum. Above all, the Cambodian people now know what it means to participate in free elections. Cambodians are eager to shape their own political future, as evidenced by the willingness of over 90 percent of the electorate to brave intimidation from the Khmer Rouge and cross heavily mined countryside to vote in 1993. Their courageous embrace of their hard-won democratic rights contradicts the myth that Asians do not care about freedom. Our assistance and our policies are designed to build a better life for the Cambodian people and to nourish the fruits of their efforts.

Last month Secretary Christopher travelled to Cambodia to underline America's support. He met with His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk, senior government officials, and representatives of the coalition parties and human rights groups during his August 4 visit. He was encouraged by the progress which he witnessed on Cambodia's political and economic development, and he underscored our continuing commitment to that process. The international community, including the United States, recognizes its responsibilities for the reconciliation and reconstruction of Cambodia. In Phnom Penh, the Secretary signed agreements providing $12 million in technical assistance, including environmental assistance, money for political and economic reform, and programs aimed at family health and primary education, as well as $5.4 million in emergency food aid.

Cambodia, for its part, has proven itself ready to work with the United States. On matters of the highest national importance, Cambodia has shown itself to be a strong friend. No country has been more open or cooperative in helping us account for POW/MIAs. On the crucial issue of extending the NPT, Cambodia provided firm support at the UN. Over the past year, Cambodia has begun to work more closely with us on counter-narcotics matters. On August 12, we signed a letter of agreement establishing the framework for additional cooperation, including funding purchase of a drug analysis laboratory and other equipment. For our part, the United States continues to support efforts in Cambodia to build democratic institutions, promote human rights, foster economic development, eliminate corruption, improve security, achieve the fullest possible accounting for POW/MIAs, and bring members of the Khmer Rouge to justice for their crimes.

The process of development and democratization is always difficult, with many obstacles to be overcome along the way. This is particularly true in a country like Cambodia where per capita income, education, and health care levels are low. Emerging democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary, are weak. Cambodians are engaged in a struggle to define "democracy" in a Cambodian context. As Cambodia begins to prepare for local elections in 1996 and national elections in 1998, we continue to support strongly Cambodia's democracy, emerging civic organizations, and nascent market economy. As a friend, the U.S. has been candidly telling Cambodia's leaders in recent months of our concerns over recent trends, especially in cases involving freedom of expression and of the press, and how those trends might jeopardize international support for the process of change in Cambodia.

We know from our own history that adjusting to the rough-and-tumble of political discourse in a democracy, particularly when it involves harsh criticism from the press, can be difficult. We are concerned about instances where Cambodian journalists have been convicted of criminal charges, fined, intimidated and, in some cases, attacked, for criticizing the government. In August, one editor was convicted of "defamation" for publishing a number of articles critical of the government and fined the equivalent of $4,000; several other papers may be facing charges in the near future. On September 7, a grenade exploded outside the offices of another paper, and a bystander was injured. No one has claimed responsibility or been apprehended for this crime. We welcomed the news that all six defendants charged with "incitement" for attempting to distribute leaflets during Secretary Christopher's recent visit have been released and that all charges against them have been dropped.

The Royal Cambodian Government signed a new press law into effect on August 31, which upholds the right to express opinions, and forbids pre-publication censorship. But it prohibits publishing "information which affects national security and political stability," language that has raised concerns that the new law could be used to silence the press. The expulsion of Sam Rainsy, a noted government critic, from the FUNCINPEC party and then from the National Assembly in July raised questions about the Cambodian government's willingness to tolerate dissent. A split within the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, the third partner in the government coalition, may result in the expulsion of four more parliamentarians, including the outspoken and effective chairman of the Assembly's Human Rights Commission.

During his visit, the Secretary urged all Cambodians to reaffirm their commitment to building and safeguarding democracy, including freedom of expression and of the press. We continue to urge the Royal Cambodian Government to respect the right of all Cambodians to express their opinions without fear of retaliation or prosecution, and to support a free press. The United States has also encouraged Cambodia's continuing efforts to institute military reforms, including greater professionalization and respect for human rights. We have also joined with others in the international community who have emphasized the importance of a commitment to building and safeguarding democracy, including freedom of expression, to attracting investment and maintaining support for assistance to Cambodia.

The United States and other countries are committed to continuing our support for democratization and development in Cambodia. Cambodians have come a long way in a few short years with international and U.S. support. At a time when the shortcomings of the United Nations are highlighted, let us recall the remarkable success of its efforts in Cambodia. The international community must continue its support. And the U.S. must do its share. We must not falter now. Our FY 96 requested budget level for Cambodian assistance is $39.5 million. We recognize the pressure on our resources. But failure to sustain our efforts could endanger the gains already achieved in Cambodia, and would send the wrong message about our support for democracy and the market economy. Our assistance is targeted precisely at developing the infrastructure and legal and economic systems necessary for Cambodia to grow on its own by attracting private investment, and enabling it to become less dependent on international assistance. USAID projects are helping rebuild Cambodia's infrastructure, including primary education, health services, and roads as well as supporting training programs for judges, legislators and court defenders.

Increasing trade and investment are essential in fostering economic growth in Cambodia. MFN will do much to boost interest among American businesses in Cambodia. We welcomed the House passage of MFN for Cambodia in July, and hope the Senate will take up the issue soon. Passage of MFN status, combined with implementation of the OPIC agreement signed by the Secretary in August, will boost Cambodia's private sector and encourage foreign investment. These steps will help make Cambodia more self-sufficient over the long run. Developing a thriving economy and a political system based on respect for human rights and the rule of law will be essential for Cambodia's continued peace and democratization.

Cambodia faces tremendous challenges if it is to sustain the considerable progress made to date in overcoming the country's tragic historical record and its legacy. Cambodia's leaders recognize that enacting military and civil service reform, speeding up rural development, instituting the rule of law and greater transparency in government, and dealing with corruption will require even greater efforts.

Cambodia's problems are exacerbated by the fact that the Khmer Rouge continue to carry out a violent insurgency. Although at this time the Khmer Rouge pose only a low-level threat, the Royal Cambodian Government must still devote substantial financial and personnel resources to fighting them that could otherwise be devoted to development. We have provided humanitarian assistance to support the peaceful reintegration of over 9,000 Khmer Rouge defectors into Cambodian society in the past two years. The official Thai policy of no support to the Khmer Rouge is on track. The Cambodian Genocide Investigation program at State has made significant progress in its efforts to document the past crimes of the Khmer Rouge and to explore the legal options for bringing them to justice. Finally, the U.S. has provided $6 million over two years to assist Cambodia's efforts to remove the scourge of the estimated 8-10 million landmines in that country. Making a better life for the Cambodian people is the key to easing the threat from the Khmer Rouge.

The Cambodian people have courageously faced a succession of terrible conflicts. They have endured invasion by foreign armies, massive dislocation, and an extraordinarily bloody revolutionary regime. Few would have predicted five years ago that Vietnamese occupation would be brought to an end, that China would cease aid to the Khmer Rouge, that violence would be greatly lessened, that over 370,000 refugees would return to their homes, that the Khmer Rouge could no longer count on support across the border in Thailand, and most important, that a democratically chosen government would be elected and function effectively in office. All of these problems have been eased or overcome with support from the UN, the U.S. and the international community for Cambodian peace and democratization. We must all do our share so that their hard-won achievements are made secure.

While we recognize the many tests Cambodia faces, both economically and politically, we believe that Cambodia's people will overcome them with the continued encouragement and support of the international community.

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