In the first visit to Cambodia by a Japanese prime minister in 43 years, Keizo Obuchi arrives today with the Khmer Rouge tribunal included on his agenda, embassy officials confirmed Sunday.
It is not known whether Japan will try to persuade the government to accept more UN control, or simply to push for the appointment of a Japanese judge.
Japanese Ambassador Masaki Saito said Sunday that the topic would be broached as a means for Japan to push for “an international standard in the trial.”
The visit by Obuchi is deemed significant if for no other reasons than it represents a rare visit from a top leader of an industrialized country, and a visit by the leader of Cambodia’s single-largest donor country. Japan pledged more than $100 million out of a total of $470 million in aid from major donors in Tokyo last year and played a key role in the Untac peace-keeping mission.
“This visit gives a very clear message that Japan is interested in playing a more active role in Cambodia,” said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “This visit is vital for [Prime Minister] Hun Sen and his government’s credibility, it is a strategic trip for both countries.”
Japan has officially been touting the visit as preparation for the upcoming Group of Eight summit in July in Okinawa, where Japan is the only participating Asian nation. Economic and cultural cooperation, and future aid packages also are on the agenda, according to Japanese embassy officials.
But Kao Kim Hourn predicted the trial would be “a hot issue” between the two prime ministers.
Human rights groups have wasted no time in urging Japan to use its clout.
“I hope that the Japanese prime minister will ask Hun Sen to accept an international tribunal, or at the very least a majority of international judges appointed by UN General-Secretary, Kofi Annan,” Kek Galabru, founder of the local rights group Licadho, said Sunday. “It will not bring justice to the Cambodian people any other way.”
According to Kyodo News, Hun Sen is hoping to use the talks to persuade Japan to speed up aid.
“It will be difficult if Japan continues to provide assistance…little by little, as it will be so hard to develop Cambodia,” Hun Sen said to Kyodo on Friday.
But Japanese embassy officials in Phnom Penh are upset by recent revelations that the Rural Development Ministry tried to access Japanese aid money for road projects already completed or built for private use. The Finance Ministry blocked the disbursement request, but the Rural Development Ministry has yet to take any disciplinary action as requested by both Japan and Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
While in Cambodia, Obuchi is scheduled to preside over the signing ceremony of a total of more than $8 million of aid to projects to improve the national tuberculosis center in Phnom Penh and a 17.5 km stretch of National Route 6 between Siem Reap and Roulos towns.
In addition to meeting with Hun Sen, Obuchi also is scheduled to meet with King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, CPP President Chea Sim, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.
After a visit to Angkor Wat on Wednesday, Obuchi will fly to Laos and then Thailand to meet with those nations’ heads of state and return to Japan on Friday.