The United States on Friday called on the Cambodian government to take "strong measures" to insure the safety and fairness of national elections set for July 27. The call follows an expression of concern by two leading U.S. Senators about reports of election-related harassment and intimidation in that country.
The State Department says there is still time for the Cambodian government to take the necessary steps to assure a safe and neutral environment for the National Assembly elections in late July.
And it says if the vote process is deemed to have been conducted freely and fairly, the United States would consider expanding aid to the economically-troubled Southeast Asian country.
The comments came from State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, who said that after past elections marred by violence and intimidation, Cambodia now has at least the mechanisms in place to give the country's people "the credible election process they deserve."
In a written statement, Mr. Reeker said "strong measures" by the Phnom Penh government to prevent all forms of election-related violence and to prosecute perpetrators are "critical factors" in the reform process.
He called on the country's new National Election Commission to demonstrate its neutrality and independence by, among other things, assuring equal media access for all parties and balanced news coverage, and to "act rapidly" to deal with alleged irregularities during the campaign, on polling day, and during the vote-counting process.
Mr. Reeker said donor nations to Cambodia are in regular contact and agree on the importance of a free and safe electoral process. He said if this in fact occurs, the Bush administration "would explore expanding areas of U.S. assistance" to that country.
The spokesman gave no details, but noted that since late last year, the United States has provided $11 million to non-governmental organizations working to upgrade the Cambodian election process.
The comments followed a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell last week by the two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who expressed dismay over what they termed the "perilous" state of democracy in Cambodia.
The committee's Republican Chairman Richard Lugar, and senior Democrat Joseph Biden, cited recent assassinations of democracy activists and scores of complaints about preparations for the upcoming elections.
They said based on independent reports, they feared a repeat of the pattern of the country's last two elections, in 1998 and 2000, which they said were "so marred by violence, intimidation and electoral manipulation" that by most accounts, they fell far short of minimal international standards.
The two Senators said the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. continues to "censor and control" local radio broadcasts, the key means of mass communication, while periodically blocking U.S. funded Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America from being broadcast in the country.
State Department officials said the United States has repeatedly raised "grave concerns" about political violence at the "highest levels" of the Cambodian government, and expects authorities to thoroughly investigate and prosecute such cases in order to end what was termed "the climate of impunity."