Next year’s national elections will be a major focus of the US’ diplomatic mission here, Ambassador-designate Charles Ray told US senators Tuesday during his confirmation hearing in Washington, DC.
“For the United States, the conduct of free and fair elections next year may well be the most important challenge since we joined the international community in support of the Paris Peace accords more than 10 years ago,” Ray told a Senate committee, according to an unofficial transcript of the hearing.
Ray, a career military officer who worked at several US Foreign Service posts after retiring from the US Army, is expected to become the new US ambassador to Cambodia, replacing Kent Wiedemann, who left earlier this year.
He was quick to point out several areas where relations are good between the two government—particularly in a cooperative fight against terrorism and the recovery of the remains of US servicemen killed here during the US war in Vietnam.
But Ray still called the situation in Cambodia one of “stark contrasts,” singling out pervasive poverty, a soaring HIV/AIDS infection rate and Cambodia’s “mixed” human rights record as problems that continue to plague the country.
Also at issue were Cambodia’s first commune level elections, which many saw as a measure of the government’s willingness to reform a historically weak balloting process.
“Commune Council elections held last February fell short of being free and fair, because of violence and intimidation and a lack of access to the media for all political parties,” Ray said.
He said the reform of the National Election Committee—a key to successful elections—is still unresolved. Ray also said that political killings by security forces have resulted in some arrests and convictions, “but many cases are unresolved.”
The US suspended bilateral aid to Cambodia following the July 1997 fighting, but remains an active donor and was the chief architect behind a Khmer Rouge tribunal plan, though that trial is again in question as Cambodia and the UN refuse to re-start negotiations.
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