Government officials reacted strongly yesterday after the US Embassy questioned Cambodia’s commitment to democracy.
The embassy’s comments, posted on its website, followed Cambodia’s order for the US-based National Democratic Institute to close and its foreign staff to leave within a week.
The NDI had become embroiled in controversy after allegedly advising the opposition CNRP on strategy to win next year’s national election.
Hun Manith, the second son of Prime Minister Hun Sen and chief of the new General Directorate of Intelligence, posted on his Facebook page that Cambodia was a sovereign state.
“Several foreign institutions had been operating in our country without proper legality,” he said. “So what should we do about it? What do you expect if a Cambodian institution operates in another country without proper rights from its government?”
He said he was surprised to learn that NDI, a well established and a well sponsored NGO, had been operating in Cambodia without any sort of right for so long.
“This is one shortcoming of the government – to have some NGOs operating in Cambodia illegally,” he said. “We need to do something about it.”
“You need to respect the sovereignty, law and regulation of the host country,” he added.
Huy Vannak, an Interior Ministry undersecretary of state and a business adviser to TV station CNC, sent an open letter to US Ambassador William A. Heidt.
He said the question and answer form of the US message was not diplomatic language which was generally characterised as respecting national sovereignty and taking a non-interfering position.
“Quite the opposite, your questions and answers were indeed provocative,” he said. “The real question is, is the United States really coming to Cambodia to help or hinder the Khmer people?
“We understand clearly the meaning of the insulting words ‘you decide’.”
He said history has shown Cambodians many stories about US interventionist positions in Cambodia.
“It is still very painful for us. Repercussions of your country’s actions in Cambodia are being felt today by our people.
“Historians have agreed that the US cost the Cambodian people so much bloodshed in the 1970s which contributed to the rise of the Khmer Rouge genocide.”
He added that the United States was behind the coup of Lon Nol and Sirik Matak against Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
Subsequently, the US dropped more than 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodian territory, leaving more than 800,000 innocent Cambodians maimed and dead and families separated forever.
“We are left to wonder why your ‘style’ of democracy is bloody and brutal? We wish to send a clear message again to the US Embassy that we defend our national sovereignty,” he said.
Kim Santepheap, spokesman for the Justice Ministry said: “Without the rule of law, do not talk about democracy. You’re on Cambodian territory. You have to respect Cambodian law.”
Embassy information officer David Josar said: “We have nothing to add beyond our Facebook post yesterday.”
On Wednesday, the embassy posted that reporting by the government-aligned Fresh News on the NDI had been inaccurate and biased.
The embassy said the NDI had a valid memorandum of understanding with the National Election Committee and worked closely with the NEC and the Interior Ministry.
“Its current program has helped improve government accountability to you, the citizens of Cambodia, and contributed to a more open and inclusive electoral process,” the embassy said. “The NDI is impartial and works with all major parties, including the CPP.
“Coming just two months after Cambodia’s very successful commune council elections, the decision to shut down the NDI raises a fundamental question: Is the Cambodian government committed to democracy?”