Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn has sought to reassure the US Mission to Asean that democracy in the country has not been damaged by the recent arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha and the closure of media outlets and NGOs.
Mr Sokhonn addressed Matt Pottinger, deputy assistant to US president Donald Trump, and W. Patrick Murphy, deputy US assistant secretary for Southeast Asia, in talks at the Asean Summit in Manila on Tuesday.
According to a ministry statement published yesterday, Mr Sokhonn said Mr Pottinger had expressed concerns relating to the detention of Mr Sokha, restrictions on press freedom, and the closure of democracy-related NGOs.
In response, Mr Sokhonn explained how government action taken in recent months was strengthening rule of law in the country.
The minister also told the officials legal action against Mr Sokha was based on solid evidence that the opposition leader conspired to topple the government.
On the issue of press freedom, Mr Sokhonn said the Cambodia Daily was the only one of three English-language newspapers in Cambodia that refused to pay tax, adding that it took the decision to close by itself in September.
“The independence of media is not the right to avoid tax,” Mr Sokhonn said, adding there are more than 1,000 media outlets in Cambodia.
The government shut the US-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute in August and ordered its foreign staff to leave the country.
Mr Sokhonn told the US officials the NDI was penalised because it had operated without being registered with the government.
Mr Pottinger asked Cambodia to work more closely with the US Department of Homeland Security, saying President Donald Trump wanted a better relationship with Cambodia.
The US Mission to Asean issued a statement following the talks, saying all sides noted the importance of sovereignty, independence, and respect, as well as mutually beneficial and productive relations.
However, the US representatives said recent “unfounded accusations and criticisms of the United States, including US diplomats in Cambodia, contradict the spirit of improved and productive bilateral relations between our two countries.”
“Representatives from the United States expressed their hope that Cambodia would treasure the hard-fought progress it has won in recent decades – including in building a democratic system and achieving progress on prosperity, peace, and reconciliation,” it said.