Hun Sen Asks Asean to Reconsider Cambodia

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked Asean to reconsider Cambodia’s membership application, the Thai newspaper The Nation reported Sunday.

The Bangkok-based daily quoted Thai Foreign Ministry spokes­man Kobsak Chutikul as saying that the renewed bid was made in an Aug 31 letter addressed to Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai and received by the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday. A Thai Embassy official confirmed that account on Sun­day evening.

According to The Nation, Hun Sen said he hopes that Cambo­dia’s bid will be on the agenda at the Sept 23 summit of Asean foreign ministers in New York.

Hun Sen’s request seems well-timed. Scheduled to join the group last year, Cambodia had its application put on hold after the factional fighting in July 1997.

But Asian diplomats and analysts said Saturday that Asean is likely to open its doors to Cam­bodian membership if the country can end its post-election deadlock and form a new government.

Moreover, Asean released a statement on Friday, endorsing international assessments of the Cambodian elections as “free and fair.”

The statement followed Japan’s approval of the election results one day earlier.

The double bill came as a blow to opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh who have urged the international community not to endorse the election results until there are sufficient ballot recounts and new voting in suspect areas.

In a joint Friday statement, the prince and Sam Rainsy expressed “regret” at the two endorsements.

“We urge once again that further statements be withheld until the many serious legal and technical problems with the conduct of the election are resolved and the will of the people is known,” they said.

But Kao Kim Hourn, a Phnom Penh-based political analyst and Asean expert, said other donor nations, which have followed Asean’s lead since last year’s coup, are now almost certainly going to endorse the poll.

“It remains to be seen as to what countries will follow Asean, but I think clearly Japan, Australia and France will have no doubt to follow Asean,” he said. “That why it’s important for Cambodia to form a new government as soon as possible.”

According to The Nation, Hun Sen’s letter assured Thai officials that the next government would be established in accord with the Cambodian Constitution at the new National Assembly’s first session.

Still, a full-blown political crisis needs to be overcome first. As of Sunday, little progress had been made after two days of talks between opposition and government leaders, hosted by King Norodom Sihanouk in Siem Reap.

A Thai Embassy official in Phnom Penh noted sourly that Cambodia’s Asean membership would likely hinge on “the formation of a government from the election.”

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