US Senator John Kerry is expected to arrive in Phnom Penh Monday, though the government contends his visit would not put pressure on lawmakers to have a quicker debate of the draft law on a Khmer Rouge trial.
Kerry, who is currently in Vietnam accompanying US President Bill Clinton on his historic trip, may travel here for a two-day visit, during which he would meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior members of government, Cambodian government and US Embassy officials said Thursday.
The visit has not yet been confirmed by the US Embassy, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong told Kyodo News Kerry will come to Cambodia.
Kerry was last here in April, when he helped broker a long-stalled agreement between the UN and the government on a trial of former leaders of the ultra-leftist regime that left more than
1 million dead in the late 1970s.
But the draft law has since been stuck on the bureaucratic path to the National Assembly, and debate has been put off
for months, although National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Wednesday he would try to push the draft onto the Assembly floor as quickly as possible.
“We are concerned—many people are concerned—with the speed in the National Assembly,” US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Thursday. “I expect Senator Kerry shares those same concerns.”
To underscore this concern, 11 UN-member nations drafted a resolution earlier this month urging Cambodia to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to trial as quickly as possible.
But Cambodian government officials maintained Thursday that Kerry’s presence wouldn’t force any action on the draft law.
“Nobody’s putting any pressure on the National Assembly. Kerry discusses this with the government; he does not discuss this with Assembly members,” said lawmaker Monh Saphan, who chairs the Assembly’s legislative commission where the draft law is currently held up.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, has accused donor countries of trying to bully Cambodia into accepting a trial plan that he claimed would allow too much of an international judicial presence.
But on Thursday he agreed with Monh Saphan, saying “there is no pressure” coming from the US right now.
The Kerry-negotiated proposal, however, has put a certain amount of responsibility for a successful trial on the US’ shoulders, according to observers, and it is in the US’ best interest that the prosecution proceed as planned.
Though both Kerry and Cambodian officials were confident in April the trial plan would be quickly passed intact by parliament, diplomatic officials, including those at the US Embassy, agreed that it could be a hard sell, particularly to CPP lawmakers.
But it’s still unclear what demands Kerry may make on the Cambodian government.
“I can’t speculate on what he’s going to do,” Wiedemann said.