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Human Rights Situation Slowly Improving in Cambodia, says UN Official - 2003-12-05

The United Nations special representative for human rights in Cambodia said Friday he has seen some gradual improvement in the human rights situation, but much more needs to be done.

United Nations special representative for human rights Peter Leuprecht says Cambodia's treatment of the Montagnard refugees from Vietnam is a "clear violation" of the U.N. refugee convention, which the country has ratified.

Earlier this month, Cambodian authorities reportedly forced back to Vietnam the last 11 of 60 Montagnard refugees fleeing persecution in Vietnam. Mr. Leuprecht says he is becoming a lonely voice concerning the treatment of Montagnards.

Mr. Leuprecht met with the representative for Cambodia's U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and he expressed skepticism about handing over asylum procedures to Cambodian authorities. Last year, the United States agreed to take some 900 Montagnard refugees, but Cambodia closed its borders to the hill tribe members, and the UNHCR pulled out of the area.

Mr. Leuprecht met with King Norodom Sihanouk, Prime Minister Hun Sen, and leaders of political parties during the trip that began a week ago.

He says he encouraged officials from the three parties to set up a government soon, so that the country could start to solve the real problems of the people.

The Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, won Cambodia's July 27 election, but failed to gain enough seats in the National Assembly to set up a new government. For months the CPP has been unable to agree with the royalist Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party on terms for a coalition.

But despite the problems still dogging Cambodia, Mr. Leuprecht says his 10th official mission to Cambodia has shown him that the country is making gradual improvements in its human rights situation.