By Suy Se
PHNOM PENH, March 22, 2010 (AFP) - The Cambodian government has threatened to expel a United Nations envoy if UN agencies continue "unacceptable interference" in the country, according to a letter seen on Monday.
The move came after UN agencies in Cambodia earlier this month urged "a transparent and participatory" process as parliament debated an anti-corruption law that was criticised by the opposition and rights groups.
In a letter to UN resident coordinator Douglas Broderick, foreign minister Hor Namhong alleged his office had been guilty of "a flagrant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia" with the statement.
"Any further repetition of such a behaviour would compel the Royal Government of Cambodia to resort to a "persona non grata" decision," said the letter, dated March 20 and referring to Broderick.
Hor Namhong also said Broderick's office "had exceeded the limit of its mandate" because it had not been instructed to issue the statement by the UN headquarters.
Ranked one of the world's most corrupt countries, Cambodia passed the anti-graft law in parliament on March 11, more than 15 years after legislation was first proposed, but only days after the draft was shared publicly.
Cambodia's foreign ministry had already accused the UN of "acting as if it were the spokesperson of the opposition parties" with the statement. UN officials have so far refused to comment on government allegations.
All lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party walked out of parliament in protest just hours before the draft law was passed by 82 lawmakers, mostly from Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party.
Opposition and rights groups said the draft of the anti-corruption law was flawed and asked for more public debate, saying the legislation would be ineffective and offered whistleblowers little protection.
A national anti-corruption council and an anti-corruption unit will be created to oversee investigations, but critics said it was unlikely either body would be effective because both would be controlled by the ruling party.
Public figures face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of accepting bribes, according to the draft law.
It was approved by Cambodia's senate on Friday and will take effect after being formally declared by King Norodom Sihamoni.
Cambodia was ranked 158 out of 180 countries on anti-graft organisation Transparency International's most recent corruption perception index.
It was also ranked the second most corrupt Southeast Asian nation after Indonesia in an annual poll by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.
Last year, a US diplomat said that graft costs Cambodia up to 500 million dollars every year, an allegation the government rejected as "unsubstantiated".