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State Visit by Vietnamese Premier Could Fuel More Protests, Analysts Say

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L) and his Cambodian couunterpart Hun Sen (R) talk as they walk to their lunch during the ASEAN Summit at the Prime Minister's Office in Bandar Seri Begawan, April 25, 2013.

Analysts say a planned visit by the Vietnamese prime minister could add pressure to Cambodia’s ongoing political crisis.

Premier Nguyen Tan Dung is scheduled to visit Cambodia for three days, starting Jan. 12, for an investment conference.

Many opposition supporters view the Vietnamese government with mistrust. Government critics say the ruling party is too close to Vietnamese policies, making relations there a hot-button political issue for the opposition.

Analysts say the state visit could add fuel to continuing anti-government protests, as leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party prepare for more mass demonstrations.

“This visit is sensitive in Cambodia,” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst in Phnom Penh. “Not for the government, but for Cambodian people in general, especially people who are protesting.”

Ou Kim Huot, an analyst in Philadelphia, Penn., said the official visit of a Vietnamese leader does not bode well for Cambodia. In the past, such visits have led to further unrest, he said.

Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha told VOA Khmer the visit demonstrates the “close relationship” between Phnom Penh and Hanoi.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan said the visit will have nothing to do with Cambodia’s internal politics. The Rescue Party may see Vietnam “as the enemy,” but that ignores political realities in the region, he said. “It’s against the political context of Asean.”

Meanwhile, the opposition is girding for even more protests, with supporters demanding that Prime Minister Hun Sen step down and a recall election be held, following July’s polls, which the opposition says were marred by fraud.

Opposition leaders are currently touring the provinces, drumming up further support.

“The only way is to hold a new election,” Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy told a crowd of some 500 supporters in Siem Reap town this week.

Kem Sokha said that mass demonstrations had been suspended, but only temporarily. “If there is no new election, as the people have requested, we’ll start doing it again,” he said.

Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have both been summoned to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Jan. 14, to answer charges related to the incitement of violence during demonstrations.

Supporters say the court summons is a move by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to strengthen its position in proposed negotiations over the months-long political deadlock that followed July’s election.

Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha will meet with supporters in Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces over the weekend.