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Cambodian Premier to Attend Asean Summit as Domestic Tensions Simmer

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, second from right, talks with Sar Kheng, right, deputy prime minister and minister of Ministry of Interior, as they wait to attend the Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Some hundreds of civil servants and students gathered to mark the country's 64th Independence Day. The country gained independence from France on Nov. 9, 1953. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The meetings come as Cambodia is experiencing a period of political instability as observers say is unprecedented in its modern history.

Prime Minister Hun Sen will attend the Asean summit in Manila, the Philippines, this weekend with an entourage of top ministers as political tensions at home continue to prompt concern from the international community.

Accompanying Hun Sen to the meetings in Manila, held between November 12 and 14, will be Prak Sokhon, foreign minister, Pan Sorasak, commerce minister, and Hang Choun Naron, education minister.

The meetings come as Cambodia is experiencing a period of political instability as observers say is unprecedented in its modern history. The government has jailed the leader of the opposition, Kem Sokha, and most Cambodia National Rescue Party MPs have left the country, also fearing arrest. The CNRP is expected to be dissolved after a forthcoming Supreme Court decision in a case widely seen as politically motivated.

Hun Sen’s government has also targeted independent and U.S.-funded media outlets for closure and expelled the democracy promotion group, the National Democratic Institute, from the country.

Chheang Vannarith, a research associate at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said in an email that it was unlikely that human rights and concerns over political freedoms would be on the agenda at the Asean meetings.

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to attend the gathering after a visit to Vietnam.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said: “They can meet on the sidelines of the meetings in a bilateral manner, because the [official] agendas have to be implemented as a plural meeting, which cannot touch on each country’s affairs,” he said, adding that no informal meetings had been arranged in advance.

During his visit to Manila, Hun Sen plans to meet with the leaders of Laos, Vietnam, China, Australia, India, and Russia, as well as Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, according to officials.

He is also scheduled to tour the Clark Freeport Zone at the invitation of former Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Meas Ny, a political analyst, said he was “skeptical that the U.S. would mention the Cambodian crisis because the Cambodian government has targeted the U.S.”