A delegation of US congressmen met with Cambodia’s top brass this week to address some of the most pressing issues in the Kingdom, including Kem Sokha’s trial for treason.
Three US Congressmen were part of the delegation – Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts and Representative Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana (both members of the House Armed Services Committee), and Representative Ron Estes, a Republican from Kansas (a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for trade matters).
In separate meetings on Wednesday, they met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and Minister of National Defence Tea Banh. Patrick Murphy, the newly minted US Ambassador to Cambodia, was also present.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Koy Kuong told reporters after the meeting with Sokhonn that the US congressmen and the Cambodian minister had stressed the importance of forging closer bonds. The US politicians expressed a strong desire to strengthen cooperation in all sectors, Kuong said.
The trial of Kem Sokha, the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was on the agenda, with Sokhonn praising the proceedings.
“His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister [Sokhonn] confirmed that the hearing was conducted in a clearly transparent manner, particularly with 58 participants representing embassies, NGOs, press and political parties present,” Kuong said.
He said the congressmen brought up recent news suggesting that a foreign power intends to establish a military base in Cambodia. Sokhonn said it was hearsay, and that Cambodia would not allow foreign troops in its territory.
“People have been talking about this. His Excellency the Deputy Prime Minister has stated that we don’t want to call any country an enemy. We want to make new friends and maintain old friendships. Our goal is to have a good relations with all countries.”
After Sokhonn, the US delegation met with Banh at the Council of Ministers’ Friendship Building.
Banh and Ministry of National Defence spokesperson Chhum Socheat could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Fresh News reported on Thursday that at the meeting, the US delegation expressed concern over Kem Sokha’s trial, saying it affected democracy and human rights. Banh rejected their concerns.
“Democracy and human rights are not affected [by this trial]. People are still going to festivals and travelling without any coercion or fear,” Fresh News quoted Banh as saying.
US Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg could not be reached for comment.
In a post on the US Embassy’s Facebook page on Wednesday, the congressmen said: “We believe in a prosperous, democratic and sovereign Cambodia, and we will share what we learned here with our fellow members of Congress and with Executive branch leaders in Washington DC.”