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US Senators’ Criticism of Hun Sen Hangs Over Sunnylands Summit

A worker prepares the meeting room for today's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California February 15, 2016.

Seven US Democrats recently posted a letter to Hun Sen, expressing concern over his human rights record.

Prime Minister Hun Sen will meet with US President Barack Obama and leaders of other ASEAN countries today, but political analysts say the Cambodian administration should not take lightly criticism from a separate group of US lawmakers.

Seven US Democrats recently posted a letter to Hun Sen, expressing concern over his human rights record. “We are troubled by the recent increase in social and political turmoil in your country ... [particularly] the numerous reports that your government continues to deny the legitimate demands of ordinary Cambodians for a more transparent, fair, and democratic Cambodia,” the letter says.

Cambodian officials did not respond to the contents of the letter, in what Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said contravenes diplomatic standards. “I regret this kind of gesture,” he said. “We feel pity for the whole nation. We want a good reputation.” ​

The senators’ letter is a powerful statement, coming from the US, with whom Cambodia already has rocky relations, he said. As Hun Sen goes into talks at the Sunnylands Estate, in Rancho Mirage, California, today, ignoring the letter will negatively color Cambodia, he said. “That is because we start like this. That’s why it’s hard to have close relations with Cambodia.”

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the letter from US lawmakers, along with a similar letter from Cambodian civil society organizations, was not of value to the government, which “has the right to protect the nation’s sovereignty.” Cambodian NGOs should not be “dominated” by outside influences, he added.

Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the senators’ letter reflected a “colonialist” attitude.

Eng Chhay Eang, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said the letter would not help Cambodia’s reputation during the Sunnylands meeting. By not responding, Hun Sen’s administration “shows that what they are saying is true,” he said.