PM’s First Foreign Mission Will Be to Seek Asean Membership

Hun Sen will attend Asean’s Hanoi summit this month in his first official visit abroad as prime minister, an aide said Monday.

“What we hope is that Asean will accept Cambodia as a full member at the summit,” said Prak Sokhonn, an adviser to Hun Sen. “Then Hun Sen will be able to participate in the summit as the prime minister of a full member [of Asean].”

Hun Sen is set to fly to the Vietnamese capital Dec 12 or 13 for the summit, which begins Dec 13.

The prime minister is also planning to visit Japan “later,” Prak Sokhonn said. “Our first priority is Asean.”

The regional organization’s delay in granting Cambodia membership has been a contentious issue since the application was frozen after the factional fighting of July 1997.

Asean officials have repeatedly said that a legitimate government must be in place before Cam­bodia can be admitted.

However, Phil­ippine Foreign Secretary Dom­ingo Siazon said last week that Cam­bodia’s pro­s­pects were dim and that a new government would not automatically result in Asean membership.

If membership is not awarded, Hun Sen will attend the Hanoi summit as an observer.

After the summit, Hun Sen plans to meet with Vietnam’s leaders to discuss “bilateral ties,” Prak Sokhonn said. “The border will be discussed and oil rights in the territorial waters.” Exactly who the prime minister will meet has not been confirmed.

Military aid is not on the agenda, Prak Sokhonn said.

Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia from 1979, when the invading Vietnamese army toppled the Khmer Rouge’s brutal, four-year regime, until 1989. Many still resent the occupation.

However, Prak Sokhonn said Hun Sen is not worried that the fact that his first foreign trip is to Vietnam might confirm people’s suspicions that he is under that country’s influence.

“It’s just a coincidence,” Prak Sokhonn said. “Vietnam organized the summit, and they invited us.”

Hun Sen was in Vietnam for medical treatment last month, but this will be his first official visit since November 1997, when he attended the Francophone summit, a gathering of the leaders of 49 French-speaking countries, Prak Sokhonn said.

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