>Mussomeli: "…as long as the government works with civil societies and with other groups the situation will improve over the next few years"


AFP/File Photo: US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, seen here in August 2005, said Cambodia had made steady progress…

Cambodian reforms on track, UN row a ‘misunderstanding’: US


The United States defended Cambodia’s human rights reforms and said a vicious spat between the country and the United Nations over alleged abuses was just a “misunderstanding.”

US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said Cambodia had made steady progress and played down this week’s row, which flared up following critical comments by UN rights envoy Yash Ghai.

“Cambodia’s government is moving in the right direction and we are all very optimistic,” Mussomeli told AFP when asked about the verbal skirmishes between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Ghai.

“I think perhaps there is a misunderstanding,” Mussomeli said.

Hun Sen on Thursday described UN human rights envoys as “gods without virtue” and “long-term tourists,” and criticized the United Nations for its silence during the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.

He has also demanded that Ghai, who was appointed in November, be sacked for criticising the government’s lack of reform.

Ghai had said that nothing had been done to speed reforms in Cambodia and criticised donors for not pushing the government over human rights violations.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed concern over Hun Sen’s volley of abuse targeting the world body, and rights groups have demanded international condemnation of the premier’s comments.

Mussomeli downplayed Cambodia’s slow pace of reform.

“I think that the UN envoy understands the gestures and the steps that have been taken for the last few months are very positive and very good steps on human rights and democracy,” he said.

“Everyone knows, the prime minister knows, the government knows and the UN knows that we have a long way to go,” Mussomeli added.

I think as long as the government works with civil societies and with other groups the situation will improve over the next few years.”

Hun Sen, who has enjoyed a firm grip on the country since ousting his co-premier in a 1997 coup, has won praise for recent moves to free jailed government critics and to reconcile with opposition politicians.

Nearly a dozen dissidents, including human rights leader Kem Sokha, were either jailed or faced punishment under criminal defamation laws which rights groups had said Hun Sen was using to silence dissent.

Last month the premier also orchestrated a royal pardon for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had received an 18-month jail sentence on defamation charges.

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