After suspending aid to Cambodia in the wake of the coup and initially refusing to recognize Ranariddh's ouster, the international community has gradually begun to signal its acceptance of Hun Sen's power grab as a fait accompli.
Nearly two-thirds of Cambodia's annual revenue of $782 million comes from foreign aid; of that amount, 39 percent consists of direct cash subsidies to the government, with humanitarian and development assistance comprising the balance. Japan is Cambodia's largest single donor, having provided $152 million last year and pledged $69.6 million in grants and technical assistance for fiscal 1997.28 It effectively halted aid in the wake of the coup, saying the security situation made it impossible for Japanese aid workers to function. Although Japan subsequently issued a four-point set of conditions for the resumption of aid, the Foreign Ministry said July 26 that it would reinstate the aid package without compliance on the part of the Cambodian government.29 In addition, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto hinted to the press that Japan might recognize the National Assembly's election of Ung Huot as prime minister.30
The United States, which had appropriated $35 million in aid for the fiscal year along with $7 million in Defense Department funds (mostly earmarked for mine clearance),31 suspended assistance for thirty days following the coup. On August 8, the State Department announced that it was resuming humanitarian aid, which accounted for about half of the $35 million package. Like Japan, however, the United States has declined to formally characterize Hun Sen's seizure of power as a coup. And although human rights investigators in Phnom Penh provided early briefings to Ambassador Kenneth Quinn about the arrests and custodial killings, the United States chose to underplay the severity of the abuses in public statements. In July 16 testimony before the House Committeeon International Relations, Aurela Brazael, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific acknowledged that "several FUNCINPEC officials" had been arrested, but made no mention of the mass arrests then underway or of the existence of detention centers. More recently, the United States has appeared to be heading toward a de facto recognition of Ung Huot as first prime minister, with special envoy Desaix Anderson meeting Huot on August 9 in his capacity as head of state.
An unusually effusive response to the coup came from the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia, Tony Kevin. In a widely quoted cable, he said, "Hun Sen is trying to pull off what he has always wanted - a more or less well-governed Cambodia under CPP control, but legitimized by a reasonably free and fair election in May 1998." Australia was also quietly supportive of Ung Huot, who holds dual Australian-Cambodian citizenship, with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer noting that his nomination had received the backing of the FUNCINPEC secretary-general.32 Downer had announced July 15 that Australia was suspending its $2 million annual military cooperation program with Cambodia, but would continue to provide about $32 million in humanitarian assistance for education, health, rural, development, and housing.
Among the donor countries, the most unequivocal in its response to the coup came from Germany, which suspended all aid to the government. Both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have said they will resume financing projects that had been approved prior to the coup once the security situation improves. However, they do not plan to issue new loans. International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending to Cambodia was scheduled to expire August 31, for reasons unrelated to the coup.
Following a special meeting of its foreign ministers on July 10, ASEAN announced that it was deferring Cambodia's admission as a member state, a move which had otherwise been scheduled to take place during the group's annual ministerial meeting in late July. The decision was a major blow to Cambodia's regional aspirations, and marked an important departure from practice for a group that has traditionally shied away from involving itself in what its members see as domestic political affairs. But while initial statements from the ministerial meeting suggested a commitment to Ranariddh's restoration, the conference ended with ASEAN indicating a willingness to recognize the selection of a new first prime minister by the rump National Assembly.33 Following a special meeting on August 11, ASEAN's foreign ministers jointly announced that recognition of Ung Huot's election did not arise as an issue because ASEAN members "recognize states not governments." The statement also described Ranariddh only as "a very important factor in the continuing efforts to restore political stability in Cambodia."34
While vacillating in their response to the coup, neighboring and donor countries have also offered little in the way of assistance to opposition members attempting to flee Cambodia. Human rights investigators in Phnom Penh report that the ambassadors of both the United States and Australia have declared that they will not offer shelter to persons fearing political persecution, with the United States making an exception in cases of hot pursuit. U.S. Embassy officials have provided escort to some of those seeking to leave the country on commercial flights. Nearlya month after the coup, the embassy finally received instructions from Washington to help expedite the departure of Cambodians at particular risk, although as of this writing, none have left the country with United States visas.
The United States Embassy in Bangkok, where most of the exiled parliamentarians remain, declared in a July 28 statement that it was not accepting political asylum applications from Cambodians.35 State Department officials have privately said they intend to rectify that policy, and at the time this report went to press, Human Rights Watch was attempting to confirm whether applications were now being accepted. Aggravating the matter further is the refusal since August 1 of Thailand's embassy in Phnom Penh to issue tourist visas to Cambodians; the move effectively closes the door to the main exit channel for Cambodians seeking to flee the country.
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28 William Branigan, "Hun Sen Gambles Cambodia Can Withstand Sanctions," Washington Post, July 12, 1997.
29 Japanese Foreign Ministry official Nobuaki Tanaka told reporters, "We certainly don't believe these conditions are fully met. But there is a commitment. That we respect." "Tokyo refuses to use aid as a big stick against Cambodia," Japan Times Weekly International Edition, August 4-10, 1997.
30 Speaking of the United States' stated refusal to recognize Huot as first prime minister, Hashimoto told reporters, "[W]e may differ in our approaches." Keiko Tatsuta, "Home to Roost," Japan Times Weekly International Edition, July 28-August 3, 1997.
31 Steven Erlanger, "U.S. May Cut Back on Aid Until Cambodian Election," New York Times, July 16, 1997.
32 Craig Skehan and Minh Bui, "From Telstra to the Top for Hun Sen's New Man," Sydney Morning Herald, July 18, 1997.
33 Speaking for ASEAN, Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi announced July 23 that, "As far as we are concerned, Prince Ranariddh is the first prime minister....There is no new prime minister and none coming up." David Thurber, "ASEAN Sticks by Cambodia Premier," Associated Press, July 23, 1997. Just two days later, however, Badawi told reporters, "We never said it should be Prince Ranariddh [as first prime minister]. Leaders will be, leaders will not be there. They die, sometimes they disappear, sometimes they resign." He said the choice of prime minister was "up to the national assembly to decide." Mark Baker, "ASEAN bows to Cambodia," Sydney Morning Herald, July 25, 1997.
34 Michael Richardson, "ASEAN Opts for Continued Mediation in Cambodia," International Herald Tribune, August 12, 1997.
35 "The Embassy is not at this time accepting applications for admission to the United States in refugee status from Cambodian nationals residing in Thailand." Statement of the United States Embassy, Refugee and Migration Affairs Section, Bangkok, July 28, 1997. United States officials in Bangkok did assist some MPs in obtaining entry to the country when they were detained at the airport by Thai authorities. Kem Sokha was granted "public interest" parole to come to the United States from Thailand after intervention by officials in Washington.