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Rights Groups Hope for Substantive Talks With US Secretary of State


William Heidt, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia (left), walks next to US Secretary of State John Kerry as he arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday, January 25, 2016 for a two-day visit in Cambodia.

William Heidt, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia (left), walks next to US Secretary of State John Kerry as he arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday, January 25, 2016 for a two-day visit in Cambodia.

John Kerry is expected to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, as well as members of the opposition and civil society.

Cambodian development organizations hope to discuss Cambodia’s backslides in human rights and environmental protections during talks this week with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry is expected to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, as well as members of the opposition and civil society.

His visit comes as the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, is in exile abroad, facing a prison sentence on criminal defamation charges brought by Hor Namhong. Rising political tensions and continued environmental degradation are also pressing concerns, development workers say.

“We wish to take this opportunity to call upon the US to make any strengthening of bilateral relations with Cambodia contingent on the government’s significant progress in the promotion of democratic reforms and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” civil society organizations said in an open letter to Kerry, issued Sunday. “We urge you to demand an immediate end to the government’s acts of intimidation, judicial harassment, and violence against opposition officials and the immediate and unconditional release of all 17 opposition members and supporters who are currently detained or imprisoned.”

Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said he hoped Kerry would discuss the “significant role” of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and of NGOs in his talks with Cambodia’s leadership.

Am Sam Ath, senior technical coordinator for the rights group Licadho, said he requested to meet with Kerry to discuss a host of issues, ranging from human rights, the culture of impunity, political issues and freedom of expression.

Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said the party’s vice president, Kem Sokha, will meet with Kerry on Tuesday to discuss the current political situation.

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