Phnom Penh threatens to expel UN country head for 'interference'

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mon, 22 Mar 2010

Phnom Penh - The Cambodian government said Monday that the United Nations office in Cambodia had overstepped its mandate by speaking out on the process under which the country's long-delayed anti-corruption law was recently put to parliament.

The comments from the foreign ministry followed a weekend letter by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to the UN resident coordinator Douglas Broderick, threatening to expel him from Cambodia.

"The unwarranted comments made by you in connection with the adoption of Cambodia's Anti-Corruption Law [are] a flagrant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia," the minister wrote.

"Any further repetition of such behaviour would compel the Royal Government of Cambodia to resort to a 'persona non grata' decision," Hor Namhong concluded.

The UN office in Cambodia was not available for comment Monday.

Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the ministry, said the government felt the UN had gone too far in its March 10 comments requesting that it allocate more time to opposition parliamentarians, civil society and donors to examine the law's provisions.

"It is a purely internal affair of Cambodia, and they commented on the process of adoption," he said. "The comment is similar to what the opposition [Sam Rainsy Party] said."

Cambodia's anti-corruption law took more than 15 years from proposal to reaching parliament.

The final draft was released publicly by the government just four days before the parliamentary debate and vote, prompting an outcry from the main opposition party and civil society representatives who wanted more time to study its provisions.

Asked whether the letter meant the government felt donors - which provided half of its 1.8-billion-US-dollar budget last year - had no right to speak out on programmes they funded, Koy Kuong replied that the government's response was made "on a case-by-case basis."

The anti-corruption law has been criticized by some as being weak and vulnerable to political abuse. It passed through the two houses this month without amendment and is expected to be signed into law later this year.

Cambodia is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 158th out of 180 countries on Transparency International's latest corruption perceptions index.

Last year the US ambassador to Cambodia outraged the government when she said the country was losing 500 million dollars a year to the scourge.


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