As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Saturday arrival in Phnom Penh approaches, Human Rights Watch urged her yesterday to “seek an immediate halt to deepening harassment of the political opposition in Cambodia.”
New York-based HRW said Ms Clinton should press for an end to the government’s jailing of political opponents, citing the convictions of self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Mr Rainsy, whose party has asked to meet with Ms Clinton, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on a number of charges stemming from his claims of Vietnamese border encroachment.
“Clinton should clearly state the US government’s serious concerns about the inadequacy and lack of fairness of the judicial proceedings against Rainsy and in other political cases,” HRW said.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, denied that the government targeted members of the opposition. “In Cambodia, we don’t have any harassment,” he said, adding that HRW “always drums up small things into big things.”
Ms Clinton’s three-day trip here, part of a 13-day tour of six nations in the East Asia and Pacific regions, is the first by a US secretary of state since Colin Powell visited in 2003.
At a briefing Tuesday in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said that during her trip Ms Clinton would likely discuss Cambodia’s 1970’s-era war-time debt, long a thorn in the side of US-Cambodia relations.
“I expect that we will have further consultations on this…” Mr Campbell said of the debt. “And I think they will raise it with the secretary.”
A US State Department official said on Sept 30 that forgiving Cambodia’s debt-which stood at about $445 million at the end of last year-would set a “poor precedent.”
Ms Clinton is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Prime Minister Hun Sen during her trip, according to Mr Campbell.
Separately, the Cambodian Confederation of Unions asked yesterday to meet Ms Clinton with concerns about “discrimination [against] trade union members and lack of criminal prosecutions for murder [of] trade union activists,” according to a statement.
The US Embassy could not be reached for comment.