Press Statement and Q&A as Delivered by Undersecretary William Burns
National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh July 18, 2010
I am very happy to be here in Cambodia, especially since my visit comes during a particularly special month - the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Cambodian diplomatic relations. The relationship between our two countries is the strongest it has ever been, and it is my hope that the next 60 years will see an even broader, stronger, and deeper U.S.-Cambodian relationship.
Yesterday, I held very productive discussions with Prime Minister Hun Sen, other senior officials and political leaders, and representatives of Cambodian civil society. Recent years have seen a maturing of our relationship, and we are expanding cooperation in areas that promote our common interests, including military and law enforcement cooperation, counterterrorism, POW/MIA matters, economic development, and many others.
We are aiding Cambodia’s development with more than $72 million in U.S. assistance to programs that focus on health, education, economic development, and accountability in government. Later this year, we will launch a new program to help improve Cambodia’s food security and resilience to the effects of climate change. U.S. assistance to Cambodia is designed to support the Royal Cambodian government’s humanitarian and development priorities, just as it did nearly 60 years ago when the original aid program was launched in 1955. The Peace Corps is doing outstanding work teaching English in the rural countryside, and the program continues to grow.
Military to military cooperation between the United States and Cambodia has advanced over the past several years. Yesterday, the Prime Minister took part in an inauguration ceremony for Angkor Sentinel, a joint U.S.-Cambodian sponsored training exercise under the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). The exercise, which involves over 1,200 participants from 22 countries, exemplifies both our growing bilateral cooperation and our mutual commitment to support international peacekeeping. The establishment of our new Defense Policy Dialogue and the arrival last month of the US naval ship Mercy, a hospital ship that made port in Sihanoukville, also highlight our new era of military cooperation with an emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We also are working together to encourage responsible and effective defense reform.
We have an active program of people-to-people cultural and educational exchanges, and I just had the honor and pleasure of participating in a repatriation ceremony at the National Museum, formally returning priceless artifacts from the Angkor era to their rightful home here in Cambodia.
The United States continues to support the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and the bringing to justice of the senior leaders most responsible for the atrocities perpetrated under the Khmer Rouge regime. We congratulate the tribunal on nearing completion of its first case, which represents a milestone in advancing rule-of-law and ending impunity in Cambodia. This year, the United States is donating another $5 million to the court, which reflects our commitment to see this process through to its conclusion, and to help Cambodia to build a society based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.
We welcome the progress that has been made in countering corruption, such as the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law, and we look forward to its comprehensive implementation. We hope that implementing regulations will clarify and enhance the law’s aim to detect and punish corruption according to international standards and thereby deter acts of corruption which discourage foreign investment. We believe that a better informed citizenry and government will lead to solutions to this problem – solutions which are deeply in the self-interest of Cambodia.
Our growing relationship with Cambodia complements our increased outreach to the ASEAN region as a whole. Next week, Secretary Clinton will travel to Hanoi for meetings with the ASEAN foreign ministers, and she will meet separately with ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative. These meetings will further enhance our efforts to work multilaterally with the countries of the region in areas such as environment, health, non-proliferation, trade, and humanitarian assistance.
There is much work still to be done, but we look forward to expanding our cooperation in all the areas I have mentioned. I appreciate the warm reception I’ve received over the past two days, and I leave Cambodia optimistic about the future of our partnership.
Question & Answer Session
Q: Hello Mr. Undersecretary, my name is Kem Kola from the Cambodia Television Network Television. So, I have heard your statement. You state you will launch a new program to improve Cambodia’s food security and reduce the effect of climate change. So, yesterday you have met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. What would you say about this visit? Has the plan of USA already been submitted to the Kingdom of Cambodia?
A: The issue of global food security is a very high priority for President Obama. The Obama administration has committed some three and a half billion dollars globally over the next few years to work with our partners around the world to modernize agricultural development, help deal with the effects of climate change, and we look forward very much to working out a program with Cambodia that takes into account those priorities. And this is something that we want to do in partnership and work through with Cambodian officials and other representatives of Cambodia to try to determine what’s the best way to structure such a program to support agricultural modernization in this country.
Q: Any particular number, the sum of the money for the next year, for the agriculture program in this country?
A: No, that’s something we’re still sorting through. But I think it certainly will reflect our overall commitment to supporting efforts toward economic modernization in this country, particularly in the agricultural sector.
Q: I would like to know if you met with any members of the opposition, Mu Sochua in particular, and if so, if you discussed her case and judicial reform in general.
A: I did, and I appreciated the opportunity to meet with a full range of political figures, including opposition figures. That’s consistent with the practice of the United States around the world. In our meeting with opposition figures, we talked about the importance of freedom of expression in any society as it seeks to modernize its political system. The Cambodian Constitution, as you know, provides for freedom of expression and we think it’s an essential value for any healthy political society. And that’s why it’s very important to weigh carefully issues like defamation suits. Because oftentimes, the kind of criticisms and debate that goes on naturally in socieities is best conducted in the political arena rather than through the judicial system.
Q: Robert Carmichael, from the German Press Agency. I was speaking with Mu Sochua on Thursday and she expressed her extreme disappointment at the Obama Administration with its support for military units that have been implicating human rights abuses, and she said it was undermining democracy in Cambodia. Did that come up on your conversation with her, assuming you met? And what would the administration’s take be on that- providing support for military units, that are in her words undermining democracy?
A: I think, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, the military to military cooperation that we’ve undertaken is aimed very much at expanding cooperation with Cambodia, and also with other countries in the region, in areas of humanitarian relief as well as peacekeeping. And it’s striking that the multinational exercise that’s taking place now in Cambodia- involving more than twenty countries- is occurring in a place that not many years ago was the object of peacekeeping operations, as opposed to a contributor to those. So that’s something that we see to be a common interest. Our military to military relationship is about more than equipment, it’s also about working toward defense reform, effective defense reform, toward encouraging the kind of civil military relationship that is essential to any healthy political system. Any military relationship that we conduct around the world is consistent with U.S. law. And so, we look very carefully, we vet very carefully, the participants from Cambodia, from other countries, in any kind of exercise that we engage in. So we’re very mindful of the concerns that are expressed, but we take those into account as we conduct our military to military relationship.
Q: My name is Sophea and I work for Deum Ampil newspaper. I know that the handover ceremony this morning is part of the celebration of diplomatic relations between our two countries and I would like to know if in the future there will be a high level exchange of visitors between the United States and Cambodia. That is one issue – another issue is regarding the debt that Cambodia owes to the United States government. Do you plan to talk about this in the future; do you think there will be a resolution in the future?
A: The Cambodian debt has been a long standing issue in our relationship. We have made some proposals that we think would help resolve the issue with regard to debt repayment schedules and the sorts of things that we can do consistent with our overall commitment to support Cambodia’s economic modernization. We hope we can work through this issue with the Cambodian government.
Thank you very much.