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Chilled Welcome Greets UN Rights Envoy

The UN secretary-general's Cambodia human rights envoy, Yash Ghai, whom Prime Minister Hun Sen last year called "deranged," arrived in Phnom Penh Tuesday morning, but it was unclear if any top official would meet with him.

Following a visit in March 2006, Ghai criticized Hun Sen's government for its concentration of power in one man and its apparent disinterest in pursuing human rights. Hun Sen followed those comments with a sharp rebuke, calling for the envoy's firing and vowing never to grant him a meeting.

Ghai said Tuesday he would be looking at the human rights issue in Cambodia and seeking reaction to a rights report that is to be turned over to the UN secretary-general.

"I have requested a meeting, but I don't know whether or not if it's possible to meet [Hun Sen]," Ghai said.

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said he was not sure whether he would meet with Ghai.

"Yash Ghai wants to have a discussion with me," he said. "I am putting together documents and have not answered anything yet."

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vattana said he had received information about the visit.

"Not to welcome Yash Ghai properly means we belittle the UN, the whole international community," opposition leader Sam Rainsy said. "If our leader does not dare or does not want to receive Yash Ghai, it means our leader has a guilty conscience, admitting that he abuses human rights, and our country seriously abuses human rights."

Hun Sen swore after last year's visit he would never meet with Ghai, the BBC reported. The prime minister then called UN workers in Cambodia "long-term tourists."