US Secretary of State Colin Powell will use his attendance at the upcoming Asean Regional Forum in Phnom Penh to express Washington’s concerns regarding the “situation” in Cambodia, the powerful US official said last week.
Addressing the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations Wednesday, Powell said he would broach his concerns with Asean leaders and the Cambodian government while attending the 10th Asean Regional Forum on June 18.
Powell’s comments were made in response to US Senator Mitch McConnell—chairman of the subcommittee and critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen—who criticized Phnom Penh and Rangoon at last week’s hearing.
McConnell cited the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh, the recent assassination of a judge and the killing of opposition activists as examples of continued “lawlessness and impunity” in Cambodia.
A well-known supporter of the Sam Rainsy Party, McConnell urged the US State Department to “seize every opportunity” to strengthen Cambodia’s opposition in during the July 27 elections.
“Senator, I do share your concerns about Burma and Cambodia as well,” Powell replied to the McConnell in his speech to the subcommittee on Wednesday.
“I won’t be [in Cambodia] a very long period of time, but enough to at least talk to my Asean colleagues about the situation in the country we will be visiting, and also have some conversation with the leadership there and, once again, express our concerns to them,” Powell said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has lately become the focus of stiff US State Department criticism, leading some officials in Phnom Penh to speculate that the US administration has adopted a tougher stance in its dealings with Cambodia.
“Bilateral relations with Cambodia are difficult to keep on an even keel in light of the January riots and subsequent political killings,” the State Department said in March.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith denied on Monday any cooling in relations with the US and claimed that McConnell’s opinions were not representative of Washington.
The government was looking forward to meeting Powell in order to correct “incomplete and partial” information that has been disseminated about Cambodia, Khieu Kanharith said.
“They are the comments of one [senator], but our relationship with the US administration is very good,” he said.
“[Powell] has just received the partial report. But we don’t want to explain through the media. Direct talks with [Powell] will be better,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding “our relationship is very good.”
Khieu Kanharith said Washington will not forgot that Cambodia was the first Asean country to sign up to the US-led war on terrorism, following the Sept 11 attacks.
Cambodia has also been instrumental is attempts to settle the North Korean standoff, he added.