A senior U.S. diplomat has said the United States wants to see a “conducive environment” for all political parties to operate in Cambodia, during a visit to the country this week.
Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, on Thursday met officials from the government and opposition as well as civil society leaders, expressing hopes for “free and fair” elections in 2018.
Speaking to reporters at the U.S. Embassy, he said that the Cambodian constitution and Paris Peace Accords, which officially ended the civil war in 1991, had declared the country a multi-party democracy and the United States hoped it would live up to this commitment.
“It is very much our hope that [Cambodia] will operate as a multi-party democracy. Without a doubt, we want to see an environment in which political actors are able to campaign and operate in safety with freedom throughout the country,” he said.
Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, the leaders of Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, are facing possible jail sentences in separate cases. Rainsy is living in exile in France, while Sokha has sought shelter at the party headquarters.
“We do not support one party in a democratic election. We don’t take a partisan position. We don’t take sides, but we are strongly committed to assist in both creating an environment that’s conducive to the free and fair exercise of democratic rights, but also to assist in the mechanics,” Russel said.
Yem Ponharith, CNRP spokesman, said the opposition was willing to enter into negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, but said that there needed to be an “environment in which the minority CNRP and the majority can talk.”
Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman, said the legal cases against the CNRP leaders were a matter for the courts.
“If the election [is held] with the participation of 10 political parties or fewer, this also means that we are following the path of multi-party democracy,” he added, in response to Russel’s comments.