Former opposition leader Kem Sokha met with the United States Ambassador Patrick Murphy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to discuss several issues, including the democracy process and rule of law.
Their meeting came after the recent get-together between Sokha and Prime Minister Hun Sen, which Mr Murphy considered as an encouraging step, which will lead to “national reconciliation,” according to Sokha’s Cabinet chief Muth Chantha.
On the occasion of Mr Hun Sen’s mother-in-law’s funeral early this month, the two politicians spent about 50 minutes at Mr Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh, during which their officials said they discussed “the welfare and interests of the nation and people”.
US Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg did not respond to the request for comment as of press time but Mr Murphy said via Twitter on Tuesday that he discussed US-Cambodia friendship with Sokha.
“Good to catch up with H.E. Kem Sokha for a great discussion on US-Cambodia friendship, rule of law and the health & well-being of the Cambodian people in the face of the global pandemic,” Mr Murphy said in his tweet.
Additionally, Sokha in a Facebook post on Tuesday said the outbreak of COVID-19 was also raised during his meeting with Mr Murphy.
“This meeting not only discussed personal and family matters, but also the health and living conditions of Cambodian people amid the global COVID-19 outbreak and its future consequences on the economy and society, when it will be necessary to join together to address these challenges,” Sokha said.
Mr Chantha said in his statement several issues were discussed between Mr Murphy and Sokha, including democracy.
“In this meeting, the two sides talked about democracy and human rights, especially focusing on social and economic issues, as well as people’s livelihood in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“The ambassador also welcomed the recent meeting between the two Cambodian dignitaries, Samdech Hun Sen and Mr Kem Sokha on May 5, saying it is an encouraging step, which leads to national reconciliation,” he added.
On Tuesday, Sokha also met with Swedish Ambassador Bjorn Haggmark at his residence. This meeting was followed by an earlier one held with several foreign diplomats, including the ambassadors of the European Union, Germany, France and Australia.
All of them also praised the meeting between Sokha and Mr Hun Sen on May 5, and said it was a “positive first step”.
Sokha is charged with “conspiracy with foreign powers” and his trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began in early January. However, it was suspended amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said yesterday the political issues in Cambodia would complicate matters if it involves foreign powers.
“Mr Murphy needs to meet with Kem Sokha to express his support because Mr Sokha’s court case mentioned the United States,” he said. “Despite not revealing the details of the meeting, I don’t think they met to just talk about welfare. It must have covered politics, democracy and human rights in Cambodia.”
“The question is whether their meeting could bring about future political resolution, however, I have not seen any progress towards this as yet,” he said. “The US was alleged to have been involved with the accused [Sokha], so, like it or not, it would not exculpate Sokha but instead would inculpate him more.”
He said any intervention or interference with the Kingdom’s internal affairs would not help promote national reconciliation.
“Like I previously said, the issues in the Kingdom has involved superpower countries, whether it be China or the United States,” he said. “Like what has happened in the past, when Cambodian issues involve the superpowers, there will inevitably be a delay. If the issues are only regarding national matters, it will be easy to resolve.”