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Officials Continue Dismissals of US Rights Hearing

A rights hearing held by a US House of Representatives commission earlier this month constituted a breech of Cambodia’s sovereignty and constitution, a government spokesman said Monday, while a senior military official dismissed concerns of rights abuses by soldiers.

“We regret that it contrasted with the Cambodian constitution,” said Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, referring to the rights hearing.

“We need to maintain our independence and sovereignty,” he said, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing Sept. 10, inviting opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua and two other rights leaders to speak on concerns the government has increased its human rights abuses and restricted freedoms.

The government was accepting of criticism, Phay Siphan said, “but we do not want attacks and incitement at all, because we are preparing additional strengthening of the rule of law.”

He called the hearing biased for excluding Cambodian government officials and said Cambodia would not accept assistance with conditions.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh waved off concerns by commission members that Cambodian units had been involved in abuses of power.

Members of the Human Rights Commission wrote US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sept. 18, alleging certain units, including Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards, engaged in human rights abuses.

“The information in that letter is all wrong,” said Tea Banh, who met with Gates in Washington on Monday.

The letter followed accusations from Human Rights Watch in the Sept. 10 hearing that the units had engaged in a variety of abuses.

“They want to accuse those soldiers of burning people’s houses down,” Tea Banh said. “The investigation at the scene was not like that. There were only two people living in that hut. So you can’t just accuse the whole division of violating human rights like that. There was nothing happening over there.”

He acknowledged that some senior soldiers committed wrongdoings, but he did not give more details.

“I don’t want to reveal their names, because I want to continue to correct them to be better,” he said.

However, Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said military officials who committed “hundreds” of violations have never been brought to justice.

“No one has ever been accountable under the Cambodian armed forces for the human rights violations,” he said. “People who are criminals are senior officials in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces now.”