WASHINGTON DC - Leaders of the Cambodian-American community say they were pleased with the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cambodia in November, where he raised the issues of rights abuses and political freedom with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Prom Saunora, adviser to the Cambodian-Americans for Human Rights and Democracy organization, said the most immediate question is now over the upcoming general elections, scheduled for July 2013.
“What the Cambodian-Americans want to have is a free and fair election in Cambodia,” he told VOA Khmer in an interview. “This is because it is in the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement, which requires free and fair elections.”
Government critics say the ruling Cambodian People’s Party controls much of the country’s media, and that it has grassroots intimidation methods in place to hurt fair elections. Government critics and opposition are routinely threatened by the judiciary, and opposition leader Sam Rainsy remains in exile, facing prison if he returns, on charges he says are politically motivated.
US officials, including Obama, have said they want to see the playing field leveled for fair elections free of intimidation. And the UN special human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, has expressly called for a political solution for Sam Rainsy’s return ahead of the 2013 polls.
However, Kuch Chanly, a community rights activist, told VOA Khmer that Cambodia has little to offer US national interests, nor is it considered a security threat, so rights issues are left up to Cambodians and their community to resolve.
Both said that Cambodia has room for improved relations with the US, which would bring better economic development and trade.
Obama’s talk with Hun Sen in November, expressing concern for human rights and democracy in the country, “was just a warning,” Prom Saunora said. “It’s like a carrot and stick strategy.”
But Cambodia would do well to heed the US, rather than rely on its neighbor to the north, he said. “Who else buys the most products from Cambodia?” he said. “It’s only the US. China only comes and takes your money.”