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Senior US diplomat to arrive for two days of talks

A SENIOR US diplomat is set to arrive in Cambodia this week for talks with government and opposition officials and civil society groups, and to preside over the return of Khmer artefacts from the US, officials from both countries said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said William Burns, the US Undersecretary for Political Affairs, was to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday for bilateral talks. The following day, Burns was to attend a ceremony at the National Museum for the handover of an unspecified number of Angkorian statues, Koy Kuong said.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson confirmed that Burns would be in the country on Thursday and Friday.

“During his visit he will meet with members of the Royal Government, representatives from civil society organisations and with members of several opposition parties,” Johnson said. He added that more details would be forthcoming.

Members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party said they plan to meet with Burns on Thursday to discuss human rights, land disputes and judicial reform.

“We will ask the US, which is a development partner, to help reinforce respect for human rights in Cambodia and help reform the judiciary,” said SRP spokesman Yim Sovann.

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who is in the middle of a legal battle with Prime Minister Hun Sen, said she planned to attend the meeting if she was not behind bars. She added, though, that she would not bring up her own case.

“I will not ask for intervention from them. But if I am imprisoned, I hope that they will go to meet me in prison,” she said.

In August 2009, Mu Sochua was convicted of defaming Hun Sen and ordered to pay a fine and compensation totalling 16.5 million riels (around US$3,928).

After the Appeal Court and Supreme Court dismissed her appeals against the ruling, she was given until July 3 to pay the fine and until last Saturday to pay the compensation. She has declined to pay both.

Tith Sothea, a spokesman at the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said the government was not fazed about the SRP’s talks with Burns, and that Mu Sochua’s case had been tried “according to procedure”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

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