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Opposition Worries Over New Consulate

PHOTO SLIDESHOW, by Taing Sarada.

With the new consulate in Lowell, Massachusetts, open just a week, opposition party supporters in the US said they were concerned the facility would not provide enough services for Cambodians and could be used instead to serve the ruling party.

Un Sokhom, an activist for the Sam Rainsy Party in Lowell, said the consulate was likely going to be used to open doors for businesses that would earn money for the Cambodian People’s Party.

“The establishment of the Cambodian consulate in Lowell is a chance and to open a door to suck the Cambodian and Cambodian-Americans’ money in order to support the ruling party in Cambodia,” he said.

Visa fees for foreign tourists are $20, business visas $25 and fees for pilots and crew $15. No visa fees are collected from diplomats, non-governmental organization staff, children under 12 and returning Cambodians. The consulate also earns money from passports and certificates of birth, marriage and death.

Un Sokhom said the consul-general, Ou Sovann, who was once a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, could be sending information on opposition supporters back to the CPP.

“Sam Rainsy Party activists both new and old are strongly concerned that Ou Sovann, consul-general, could report about people’s biographies who have political leanings to the opposition party in Cambodia, and he could report about Sam Rainsy’s activists activity in America,” he said.

During the run-up and aftermath of last year’s national election, the Sam Rainsy Party saw a raft of supporters declare allegiance to the CPP, which handily won the election.

Ou Sovann said he would work as consul under guidelines from the Cambodian government, and he denied prejudice of people or political parties.

“I don’t discriminate who is who, or any political party, at all, but only need to complete my duties as an official for Cambodian consulate affairs,” he said.

Another Sam Rainsy Party activist in Lowell, Long Chamreun, told VOA Khmer that he supported the establishment of the Cambodian consulate, but he suggested that the Cambodian consul and the Cambodian ambassador in Washington needed to accept protesters’ demands and report them to the Cambodian government.

“It is good because there are many Cambodian people living” in Lowell, he said. “But we have seen so far that in every protest in front of the Cambodian Embassy in Washington, DC, the Cambodian ambassador has never come out to meet the protesters or brought their appeals and demand letters to the Cambodian leader. I think if they dare to report this, the government in Cambodia would withdraw them from their positions in the US. I think to open this consulate is good so that we can do the protests in the future, because we have full freedom for demonstration.”

Sam Rainsy Party’s president for North America, Chea Kimly, told VOA Khmer that his party does not oppose the Lowell consulate or the defection of Ou Sovann, but he wants to see the new consulate work without political discrimination.

“There is nothing wrong if they really serve the people, but we want to see that service without political discrimination and without service only to some individuals or only one specific political party,” he said.

The Lowell consulate opened April 26, and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at the opening ceremony the government hoped to have another, in Long Beach, Calif., in the near future.