Ambassador Jospeph Mussomeli said Monday the relationship between Cambodian and
had improved in recent years, but human rights officials say the warmer ties
have come at a cost.
Rights officials said in recent interviews US support of
human rights groups has decreased in recent years, eroding freedoms of
expression and assembly.
"The relationship between the two countries has
markedly improved over the last two years," Mussomeli told reporters at
the embassy Monday, on his final day in the country. "I'm hesitant to say
that, because I think it still has a long way to go. As many of you have heard
me say before, a few years of good relations can't really compensate for
decades of misunderstandings and distrust."
was sharply criticized in 2007 for closer ties with the national police, after
the FBI opened a liaison office in Phnom Penh. Human
rights workers said at the time the increased cooperation would make rights
work in the country more difficult.
Mussomeli left Cambodia late Monday. He will be
replaced by a former political officer at the Cambodia mission, Carol Rodley,
later this year.
Rights workers said his tenure saw the end of
anti-government positions from the United States.
government policy has shown clearly that it used to oppose the government; now it
shows clearly that they are pro-government," said Thun Saray, president of
the rights group Adhoc. "They seem to have more cooperation with the
government than before. That's why they have less criticism of the
Democracy had not decreased under the changed position, but
local groups were still hard pressed to champion democracy and rights, said Kem
Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party.
"I can see progress of democracy in Cambodia,"
he said. "The United
States should not reduce aid to local NGOs,
and they should not undertake more cooperation with the government. They should
strengthen more democracy and human rights in Cambodia. They should not give more
aid to the government, but should strengthen more [aid] to local NGOs, so the
local NGOs can strengthen human rights and democracy in this country."
Mussomeli also said Monday Cambodia's potential production
of oil would not have a significant impact on relations between the two countries.
He warned, however, that revenue from oil must be used properly in order for Cambodia
"The oil could be a very good thing for Cambodia,"
he said, "because Cambodia is such a poor country and the economy is at
such a low level that the oil, if it's used properly, if it is used for the
benefit of the Cambodian people, if it's used to build roads and develop the
educational system and the health system and things like that… it is an
opportunity for Cambodia to really jump-start its country and jump-start the
Thun Saray said the oil represented a small market, and the US government was not much interested in the oil