US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport just after 10 pm Wednesday. Powell is here until Thursday morning, participating in his third Asean Regional Forum and a number of bilateral meetings.
According to an embassy statement, Powell will begin his diplomatic rounds by briefly meeting Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh this morning.
Speaking at the National Assembly Tuesday, the prince said he was unsure what he and Powell would discuss but hoped it would include the Khmer Rouge tribunal and next month’s elections.
Shortly thereafter the secretary is scheduled to arrive at the Hotel Inter-Continental, the ARF’s staging ground. Foreign Minister Hor Namhong will greet him, and they will proceed to the ballroom for the conference.
Bilateral meetings will begin after lunch. A one-on-one with China’s Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing is scheduled first. That will be followed by a brief “pull aside” with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, then a sit-down with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young Kwan, followed by another with India’s Minister of External Affairs Yashwant Sinha.
This evening, Powell and US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher will hold a news conference at Hotel Le Royal.
Powell will begin Thursday morning by quickly meeting opposition leader Sam Rainsy. As with Prince Ranariddh, there will be a photo opportunity for the accredited press corps.
Despite the intended brevity of this encounter, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay said Tuesday that it will send an important message to the ruling party and hopefully rein in government persecution of the opposition.
“It means the United States cares what happens politically in Cambodia,” he said. “It is important to make the leaders and the people know that the United States cares about the opposition in this country.”
Afterward, Powell and his fellow Asean dialogue partners will make a group courtesy call on Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Council of Ministers, before returning to the Hotel Inter-Continental for the Post-Ministerial Conference.
“I hope and believe that the relationship between both countries, Cambodian-US cooperation, will be encouraged,” Hun Sen adviser Om Yientieng said. He also said he expected Hun Sen to raise regional concerns with Powell, discussing anti-terrorism efforts in particular.
Powell is scheduled to depart from the airport at 10:35 Thursday morning.
Speaking Monday at news conference in Washington, Assistant Secretary Boucher said that Powell’s focus at the ARF would be pushing for the release of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow detained advocates for democracy.
Boucher dismissed Rangoon’s given reasoning—that it is protecting Suu Kyi with confinement—as a “ridiculous explanation.”
“All the threats to her seem to come from the [Rangoon] regime, and not from anywhere else,” he said.
Assistant US Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly is also expected in Phnom Penh this week.
Powell is the first US secretary of state to come to Cambodia since a 24-hour visit by Warren Christopher in 1995. Before Christopher, the most recent visit by a State Department head was John Foster Dulles in 1955.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)