Canada closes embassies in Cambodia, Bosnia

Jennifer Ditchburn

OTTAWA – The Harper government is closing Canada’s embassies in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries still struggling to recover from a violent past.

The announcements were made on the websites of embassies, with the same explanation on both: “The government of Canada continually monitors its representation abroad and periodically shifts resources to meet Canada’s needs in an ever-changing world.”

The government said the decision was taken “following a serious examination of Canada’s current diplomatic representation abroad.”

Four other missions have been closed since the Conservatives came to power, in Milan, Italy, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Fukuoka and Osaka, Japan.

The government noted that there has actually been a net increase of 25 missions in the past 15 years – most of them in the United States.

The Foreign Affairs Department said it will keep a humanitarian assistance office open in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The country still has serious problems with crime, drugs and human rights violations. A UN-backed war crimes commission is grilling members of the Khmer Rouge regime for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.

Canada sent peacekeepers to the region for a period in the early 1990s.

Sambo Chhom, executive director of the Canadian Cambodian Association of Ontario, said closing the embassy will have an adverse affect on the lives of Cambodians.

“The Cambodian government feels its being watched by the Canadian government. They wouldn’t do anything harsh while they’re there because they fear an international outcry,” Chhom said.

“Without the Canadian government there, the NGOs will have less contact with outside countries.”

Canadians travelling in Cambodia who need consular assistance will be directed to the Australian embassy.

Those who need help in Bosnia-Herzegovina are being directed to an Ottawa-based emergency number, or an office in Budapest, Hungary. A consulate is scheduled to be opened in Sarajevo in the future.

Canada set up an embassy in Sarajevo in 1996 after the bloody civil war there ended. About 40,000 Canadian troops served in the peacekeeping mission there between 1992-2004.

The government will remain a member of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which monitors the country’s progress at reaching some of the security and governance goals outlined in the peace agreement reached in 1995.

Some retired diplomats and other observers have criticized budget cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs that began under the Liberals and continued under the Conservatives.

On Thursday, provincial trade ministers urged the federal government to increase its international profile in order to stimulate more trade and investment with Canada.

One of the Conservative government’s first acts in 2006 was to slash $11 million from the diplomacy budget, cash that allows representatives abroad to promote Canada.


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