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Cambodian PM Calls U.S. Escalations a ‘Tragedy’, Urges Negotiations


Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the opening ceremony of Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Friday, April 14, 2017. (Courtesy photo of Prime Minister's Facebook page)

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for “patience and negotiation” over increasing hostilities in the Middle East and Korean peninsular.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for “patience and negotiation” over increasing hostilities in the Middle East and Korean peninsular.

The premier said in a speech on Friday that he was “deeply concerned” by the U.S. April 6 bombing of the Shayrat airbase in Homs which followed a chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province, as well as the suggestion that the U.S. would strike North Korea if it continues to test its nuclear arsenal.

“Despite it being New Year’s Day, Cambodia, a United Nations member state, expresses its deep concern over the Middle East situation, especially Syria, and North Korea,” he said.

“We call for patience to resolve these conflicts via negotiations,” he added.

He went on to describe the U.S. strike on the Syrian government airbase and the chemical attack as a “tragedy” that Cambodia could relate to, given their history of conflict.

Following the airbase strike, the U.S. on Thursday launched a separate attack on an ISIS target in Afghanistan using a 10,000 kilogram Massive Ordinance Air Blast device, commonly referred to as the “Mother of All Bombs.”

In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website April 7, 2017, an aerial view shows shelters for aircraft at a Syrian air base after it was hit by U.S. strike in Syria.
In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website April 7, 2017, an aerial view shows shelters for aircraft at a Syrian air base after it was hit by U.S. strike in Syria.

U.S. President Donald Trump also issued a fresh warning to North Korea on Thursday, warning it not to provoke military action with another nuclear weapons test.

“North Korea is a problem,” Trump said at the White House. “The problem will be taken care of.”

Cambodia has maintained a cordial relationship with North Korea for decades stemming from the late King Norodom Sihanouk’s friendship with the country’s former ruler, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current head of the regime, Kim Jong Un.

Paul Chambers, a lecturer in international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand, said Asean could call for negotiations in the hope of deescalating the situation on the Korean peninsular.

“After all, reducing tensions among states is a chief reason for the creation of Asean,” he said in an email.

“As for the motives of Hun Sen, it appears that he is trying to build himself up as a global statesperson to demonstrate that he can go toe-to-toe with other leaders in international affairs while showing a domestic audience that he can be the international voice of Cambodia,” he added.

A television screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile firing, at Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, March 6, 2017.
A television screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile firing, at Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, March 6, 2017.

Chheang Vannarith, chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said the escalating tensions showed characteristics of a new cold war between superpowers.

“Our country is small, so to what extent will the superpower countries listen to us? Even all of Asean speaking on these issues cannot make an impact to reduce tensions,” he said.

Sophal Ear, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said Asean and Cambodia “lack the bandwidth” to get involved.

“There is definitely concern insofar as it appears the United States has very powerful weapons that it is willing to use. This should concern many countries that are willing to gas their people,” he added.

“North Korea and Syria are doing bad things to their people. When calling for negotiations, this should not be a stalling tactic to enable Russia to help their friend, Syria, or for China to help their friend, North Korea,” he added.

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