The Cambodian foreign minister has threatened to expel the country head of the United Nations after the U.N. office asked the government to allow greater public participation in the country's long-awaited anti-corruption law.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong was blunt in a letter to U.N. country head Douglas Broderick this week. He called Broderick's request that the government allow more time for public scrutiny of the anti-corruption law "a flagrant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia".
The letter concluded that should the U.N. office act in that way again, Broderick would be expelled.
A foreign ministry spokesman says it is unacceptable for the U.N. office to comment on the lawmaking process in Cambodia.
In addition, officials have express government annoyance that United Nations was echoing opposition calls for more time to study and amend the law.
The United Nations has not commented about the foreign minister's letter.
But some civic activists worry the government's tough words to the U.N. are a warning to private aid and rights groups.
Hang Chhaya heads the Khmer Institute of Democracy, a private group trying to foster democratic values. "It is strange, and no one seems to want to comment on it," Chhaya said. "And this can be worrisome for NGOs as well."
Like many here, Hang Chhaya is confused by the government's hard line. He says the U.N. has been in Cambodia for two decades with a mandate to help the government rebuild the country.
"And they have done that," Chhaya asserted. "And what is the point now in not allowing them to comment on such an important issue for Cambodia?"
The government itself is sending out mixed messages.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, says the government continues to welcome input from its development partners.
He says a letter from Broderick, which was sent before the foreign minister's letter, had answered Council's concerns.
"And we have a good response from them," Siphan said. "They are looking forward to implementing and cooperation with the government to make the law successful."
There are concerns that the government's tough message to the United Nations will shut off criticism of the anti-corruption law, which many rights groups deride as weak and vulnerable to political interference. And, activists say, it adds to fears that the government will continue efforts to silence critics, through court cases and other measures.