Opposition lawmakers met with visiting US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton yesterday afternoon to brief her on the country’s human rights situation and ask for help in securing the return of self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, SRP politicians said.
“We requested that Ms Clinton help Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia. There is no democracy in Cambodia if the opposition president is jailed,” SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said at a news conference held immediately after the meeting.
Six lawmakers met the US diplomat at the US Ambassador’s residence in Phnom Penh, Mr Sovann said: Kem Sokha and Ou Chanroth from the Human Rights Party, and Yim Sovann, Son Chhay, Ke Sovannroth and Mu Sochua from the SRP, which celebrates its 15th anniversary today.
Mr Sovann said Ms Clinton had promised the US would keep a close eye on the issue of Sam Rainsy’s return.
The lawmakers also discussed the issues of judicial independence, land-grabbing, progress toward democracy and the electoral process, he said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said Ms Clinton had promised the US would be more involved in dealing with the human rights issues raised at the meeting.
“She promised that she will leave [instructions] to the Embassy to work closely with us and others to look at the best way to spend resources to deal with these issues more effectively,” he said.
Mr Chhay said Ms Clinton also took the opportunity to offer advice to the opposition on how it can play a bigger role in developing the country.
“She was looking into the ability of the opposition to come up with policies that attract the people,” he said.
Mr Chhay said Ms Clinton reassured him that the US would continue to push for better human rights while engaging with Cambodia, unlike their regional rival China.
“Some of our leaders would like to have support directly from China and they can be in power forever,” he said.
US Embassy spokesman Mark Wenig said he was not present at the meeting yesterday and declined to comment.
Interviewed before the meeting yesterday, Ms Sochua said that Ms Clinton’s decision to meet with the opposition showed that the US recognizes the importance of participation from all sections of society.
“She gives a very strong signal that we are part of the steps to democratization, that without a viable, loyal opposition…peaceful development of Cambodia cannot happen,” she said.
Ms Sochua said yesterday that she was inspired to get involved in politics after meeting Ms Clinton at the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
“She is the one who got me into the political theater right after I came back from Beijing…. She inspired not just me but thousands, if not millions, of women the world over,” she said.