Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped off a plane from Beijing Wednesday morning and announced he has canceled his visit to UN headquarters in New York, which had been planned for later this month.
The premier’s adviser, Om Yentieng, said last week that Hun Sen had been scheduled to meet privately with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and to address the world body’s General Assembly.
“I told Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong to go to New York because I have a lot of programs in the country, and I also have to join the [Asia Europe Meeting in Hanoi]. That is why I canceled my trip,” Hun Sen told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport.
Om Yentieng, speaking by telephone Wednesday from Svay Rieng province, declined to comment on why the prime minister had dropped such a high-profile engagement.
Hun Sen said in July that he would visit UN headquarters after legislation to establish a long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal, which is now at the National Assembly, has been ratified.
Numerous Phnom Penh-based diplomats declined to comment on the cancellation. Some said their embassies had not been informed officially.
But one government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the change of plans was brought about by numerous factors, including the expected return of King Sihanouk around the end of this month or in early October and preparations for the Asia-Europe summit on Oct 8 and Oct 9. He said that Hun Sen was trying to balance his foreign and domestic agendas, having made several recent trips abroad.
The official also said Hor Namhong would carry out Hun Sen’s agenda, pushing for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2006-07 term.
He denied that the Chinese government had influenced Hun Sen’s seemingly abrupt decision to skip New York.
Observers of the effort to prosecute surviving Khmer Rouge leaders say that China has lent little support to the drawn-out and often-tense process—for fear that court room testimony could embarrass it, the primary foreign backer of Pol Pot’s murderous 1975-79 regime.
Hun Sen’s government has grown increasingly close to Beijing as tribunal negotiations have progressed, and it has reaped considerable financial assistance.
Hun Sen announced two new Chinese aid packages Wednesday, a new 198-km road connecting Kratie province and Laos and a new building for the Council of Ministers.
Construction of the road will begin in October, and there is no start date for the Council’s new facility, he said.
As for next month’s meeting in Hanoi—Cambodia, Laos and Burma will join other Asean nations and European Union member states at the summit for the first time.
Cambodia and Laos had threatened to boycott the gathering in support of Burma, which the Europeans had sought to bar on account of its wretched human rights record. But last week the Asean and EU sides reached a compromise, agreeing that only low-ranking Burmese delegates would be permitted to attend.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)