Cambodia has a new ambassador to the Philippines.
A week after former envoy Hos Sereythonh was recalled amid a firestorm over comments made in a Philippine newspaper, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tapped veteran diplomat Tuot Panha for the post, ministry spokesman Koy Kuong confirmed yesterday.
On July 9, following a contentious ASEAN Foreign Ministers summit in Phnom Penh in which backroom bickering over the South China Sea prevented the signing of a joint communiqué – a first in 45 years of such meetings – Sereythonh accused a Filipino diplomat of playing “dirty politics” in an op-ed piece that ran in The Philippine Star.
The former ambassador also took the governments of the Philippines and Vietnam – a fellow claimant to areas of the sea claimed by China – to task, saying they had wanted to “sabatoge and hijack” the joint communiqué by insisting references to the dispute be part of the language.
The Philippine government subsequently publicly summoned Sereythonh to explain the comments, an offer Sereythonh declined to accept, sending a deputy in his stead.
Yesterday, the government continued to deny that ending Sereythonh’s term as ambassador was connected with the row – a theory widely touted in the Filipino press – insisting it was simply the end of his assignment.
“The changing of the ambassador is a normal diplomatic issue,” Koy Kuong said.
“Other countries do the same thing . . . removing the ambassador from one country or to another country. I don’t think this is strange.”
Panha, currently, an undersecretary of state, has been at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years. He previously served as deputy cabinet chief for Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
Asked if the new ambassador would be mending fences with the Philippines, Koy Kuong said that would not be necessary.
“We still have a good relationship [with the Philippines],” he said.
Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez and ambassador to Cambodia Noe Wong did not respond to inquiries from the Post yesterday.
To contact the reporter on this story: Cheang Sokha at [email protected]