Saturday, 20 March 2010

EU delegation leaves Cambodia, says visit "largely positive"

via CAAI News Media

Mar 19, 2010

Phnom Penh - A delegation of European Union legislators left Cambodia Friday saying they had obtained 'largely positive' impressions from their two-day visit, but warned progress was needed in a number of areas.

The EU is Cambodia's largest foreign donor and one its key export markets.

During their two-day stay, the delegation met with members of the government, opposition parties, international donors and civil society representatives to learn more about Cambodia's political situation, human rights and economic position.

Werner Langen, the chair of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said Cambodia had made significant progress in the three decades since the Khmer Rouge 'terror state' was overthrown.

But he said Cambodia still had much to do in areas such as human rights and freedom of expression.

'We have made it clear that the EU has international standards that it wishes to see applied,' Langen said. 'We made it clear that human rights and the state of law are part and parcel of democracy.'

Ivo Belet, the delegation's deputy, said the team was also interested in closer cooperation in the field of energy.

'This is a country with enormous potential for renewable energy - solar energy and hydropower energy,' he said. 'The EU has a lot of knowledge on that issue.'

In a reference to the government's ongoing efforts to use the law to pursue its critics, including members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Belet said the delegation was convinced Cambodian democracy 'is strong enough to afford an opposition.'

He added that European Parliament legislators have a responsibility to monitor how the EU's money is spent, not least since it is Cambodia's largest donor.

'But as elected representatives we are accountable to our own taxpayers,' Belet said. 'We will out of a budgetary obligation keep on monitoring the fight against corruption, which is of course linked to the democratic process.'

Langen said the country's new anti-corruption law - which was passed by parliament last week and has been criticized as vulnerable to abuse by the political elite - ought to reflect international standards.

'Even good laws are worth nothing if they are not maintained - and for that you need a reliable and independent judiciary,' he said, adding that the law should be applied equally to all.

Cambodia is currently ranked by corruption watchdog Transparency International as the 158th most corrupt country in the world out of 180 nations surveyed.

Bilateral trade between Cambodia and the EU bloc was worth around 900 million dollars last year; the bulk comprised Cambodian garment exports.

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