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As N. Korea Threats Loom Large, Cambodia Joins Asean Seeking Scaling Down of Hostilities

FILE - This combination of photos show North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on April 15, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on April 29, 2017. A dictator stands on the verge of possessing nuclear missiles that threaten U.S. shores. A worried world ponders airstrikes and sanctions. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Files)

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have heightened since Trump said the North would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten America.

As U.S. President Donald Trump issued a threat of war against North Korea, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon this week said that Asean countries had sent a “strong message” to the reclusive state expressing “grave concerns” over its nuclear weapons program.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have heightened since Trump said the North would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the United States.

The statement reportedly prompted North Korea to “examine plans” for a first-strike capability against U.S. Military assets on the Pacific island of Guam.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended Trump’s comments, saying Americans could continue to “sleep well at night”.

Sokhon on Wednesday said Cambodia, which has historically been one of North Korea’s few friends on the international stage, had suggested the country “stop its missile launches and comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Cambodia “and other Asean countries agreed to send a strong message to North Korea,” he added.

In a joint statement issued by the 10 Asean states from the foreign ministers’ meeting in Manila this week, the bloc said its members could play “any role in seeking peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Sokhon told reporters that Cambodia had to also consider North Korea’s view that U.S. Military exercises in the region were a direct threat to its existence, adding that Cambodia supported Chinese and Russian initiatives to end the North’s weapons program.

Ko Yunju, deputy director general of South Korea’s North Korea Nuclear Affairs Bureau, said in an interview with VOA Khmer that he believed Cambodia could play “a unique role” in seeking peace on the peninsula.

“I think you know Cambodia can play a very important role as the one member country of Asean,” he said. “Cambodia has traditionally good relations with North Korea. We expect Cambodia can play a unique role to persuade North Korea to come to the negotiation table and stopping all the missile provocation.”

Cambodia’s relationship with North Korea stems from King Sihanouk’s friendship with the father of North Korea, dictator Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of its current ruler, Kim Jong Un.

Kim built Sihanouk a winter palace outside Pyongyang in 1974 and provided the king with an elite bodyguard unit. Diplomatic relations continue, as they have done since 1965, and Cambodia remains one of the relatively few countries to host a North Korean embassy.

Pou Sothirak, executive director of Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said if the relevant parties made a request Cambodia could play a productive role in negotiations.

“I can also see that Cambodia can play an advantageous role that all the parties especially the six party talks can reach the agreement to end the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula,” he said.