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US: Cambodia Rights Record Remains Poor

Cambodia's human rights record is still poor, and its government shows no political will to change that, according to an annual human rights report issued Tuesday by the US State Department.

Cambodia, which warranted 50 pages in the report, fell into the same category as North Korea, Cuba, China and Afghanistan. Worse countries were Burma, Iran and Laos.

"The government's human rights record remained poor," the report says of Cambodia. "Government agents committed extrajudicial killings, and security forces acted with impunity. There was little political will to address the failure by government authorities to adhere to the rule of law."

Cambodian embassy officials in Washington, DC, could not be reached for comment.

Cambodia was praised for its release of five human rights activists jailed in 2005; restoring parliamentary immunity to opposition leader Sam Rainsy; and decriminalizing defamation, among other examples.

Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, who was among those activists arrested in 2005 and released in 2006, mostly welcomed the report, saying Cambodia's human rights situation has not changed.

"The key matters especially remain," he said, "such as blocking peaceful demonstrations, such as those in land disputes where protesters have been threatened with arrest."

"The matter of judicial reform is still difficult," he said, citing as well corruption and forced evictions.

Relations between Cambodia and the US have thawed recently, with the US restoring direct aid to the country just last month.

"That is a political issue," Kem Sokha said. But "even if they have a close relationship, [the US] never forgets to talk about human rights issues."