UK’s Southeast Asia Foreign Minister to Talk Trade, Politics

The U.K.’s visiting Foreign Office minister for Southeast Asia, Hugo Swire, will meet Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leaders Friday to discuss both trade and the current political climate, which has been marked by stalemate and protests since July’s national election.

This is the first visit to Cambodia for Mr. Swire, who was scheduled to arrive Thursday evening.

“I am here to better understand the current political landscape and challenges that remain in ensuring a peaceful, secure and democratic future for Cambodia,” he said in a statement issued by the British Embassy on Thursday. “I also want to explore the potential to increase trade links between our two countries as a basis for future economic growth.”

On January 10, Mr. Swire released a statement criticizing a new ban on demonstrations and the lethal force military police had used the week before to put down protests demanding a higher minimum wage for the garment sector, which exports duty-free to Europe under a trade scheme for developing countries.

In that statement, Mr. Swire said the U.K. was “deeply concerned by the disproportionate use of force by the security forces” and said Cambodia “must respect the right to peaceful freedom of assembly.”

With the opposition CNRP still refusing to accept the CPP’s election win and boycotting parliament, he also urged the parties to resume negotiations soon.

The British Embassy said it could not confirm whether Mr. Swire would be raising those same concerns with Mr. Hun Sen in person when they meet this afternoon.

Mr. Swire is also scheduled to meet with CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha and party lawmaker Yim Sovann.

“We will inform him about our recommendation for a re-election and the political stand of the CNRP to find a solution to the political crisis,” Mr. Sovann said.

He said the opposition would also be urging Mr. Swire to follow through on a resolution the European Parliament passed earlier this month calling on Mr. Hun Sen to reform the electoral process and to conduct credible investigations into both the July poll and the fatal shooting of five garment workers.

The CNRP has said that the European Union. should consider cutting aid to Cambodia if the prime minister does not comply.

Mr. Swire will meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong this morning and visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the afternoon before meeting Mr. Hun Sen.

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