King Norodom Sihanouk, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top leaders turned out to welcome Indonesia’s new President Abdurrahman Wahid to Phnom Penh Monday.
Accompanied by his daughter, wife and foreign minister, the nearly blind Muslim cleric stepped off the plane onto a red carpet and into a crowd of dignitaries that include most of the government’s top officials, the King and Queen Norodom Monineath.
Wahid, Indonesia’s first democratically chosen president, is in town for a brief visit as part of a goodwill tour of Asean member states. He met with top officials at the Royal Palace, where he stayed.
In a press conference with reporters Monday night, Wahid predicted Cambodian-Indonesian relations will improve in the coming years. “There are many things that can be done together,” he said, noting that the two countries had already agreed to increase tourism between the two countries. “Many Indonesians would like to see Angkor Wat.”
Partnerships also can be formed to develop telecommunications, agriculture, mining and other industries, he added.
Asked by Indonesian reporters about the recent meeting between Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam,
Wahid said he supported “like-minded people developing economic schemes,” and said in the future Asean should be based on relationships between individual nations “whether all together or alone.” But he said it would be “more positive” if such relationships are developed within Asean.
Wahid took power in October after months of turmoil in Indonesia, including the militia-backed violence in East Timor.
Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters as he left Pochentong Airport that he planned to discuss “the new situation of Southeast Asia after East Timor, and the future of Asean countries.”
When asked whether he would consider supporting East Timor’s admission to Asean, Hun Sen said he had not decided yet, because East Timor had not asked and some member countries are opposed.
Chum Sounry, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Wahid would discuss ways to “expand bilateral cooperation.”
The two countries have inked a number of agreements in recent years, government officials say. In January, Indonesia agreed to ante up money to help restore Angkor Wat. Also earlier this year, Cambodia signed a investment protection deal with Indonesia and in 1997 the two signed a bilateral trade pact.
The visit, Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, said, will “give some momentum to serious agreements we have signed. We feel Indonesia has a well of untapped capital that can be invested in Cambodia.”
King Sihanouk, appearing for the first time in public in recent months, appeared healthy and in good spirits, showing little sign of any of the conditions that led to rumors and speculation about his health in recent months.