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Cambodian, U.S. leaders hold talks on old debt, human rights

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) talks with visiting U.S. President Barack Obama (L) at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 19, 2012. President Barack Obama arrived here on Monday for the 4th ASEAN-U.S. Leaders’ Meeting and the 7th East Asia Summit. (Xinhua/Sovannara)

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and visiting U.S. President Barack Obama met here on Monday to discuss a number of issues including old debt, human rights, democracy and forced evictions in Cambodia, a senior Cambodian official said.

Hun Sen expressed his warm welcome to Obama, who is the first incumbent U.S. President to visit Cambodia, Prak Sokhon, a minister attached to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told reporters after the meeting between the two leaders.

Hun Sen also raised the issue of old debt of 162 million U.S. dollars that Cambodia owed the United States in the era of Lon Nol regime between 1970 and 1975, but to date, plus interests, the debt has amounted to more than 400 million U.S. dollars.

He said that Cambodia wanted to use a bilateral mechanism, not the Paris Club of creditors, to solve the problem.

He asked to pay the debt to the U.S. step by step and demanded the U.S. charge only 1 percent interest rate per annum on the debt because Cambodia is still poor.

The premier also asked the U.S. to forgive at least 70 percent of the debt to Cambodia for social development such as education, cultural conservation and demining.

Meanwhile, Obama said he would assign his experts to work with Cambodian team to find an acceptable solution for both sides.

Then, he raised concerns by U.S. Senators over human rights, democratic process, and next year’s general elections in Cambodia.

Obama asked Cambodia to consider the recommendations by Surya P. Subedi, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia in order to improve human rights situation and to reform election committee in Cambodia.

In response, Hun Sen thanked Obama for “frank speaking” over the issues in Cambodia; however, he said Cambodia has been actively working to promote the rule of law, human rights and people’s living conditions.

He said the situation of human rights, especially political freedom in Cambodia, is not poorer than that in its neighboring countries.

In regard to the arrest and sentence of a beehive radio station owner Mam Sonando to 20 years in jail and the conviction of the self-exiled opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, the premier said: “In Cambodia, there is no political prisoner, but politicians abused the law, so they must be punished in accordance with the law.”

For forced evictions, Hun Sen acknowledged that there were some cases because some people have illegally lived on the land, so the country has to forcibly implement the law and evict them, “but such cases are very few.”

Obama thanked Hun Sen for explanation and said that his desire was to see better general situation in Cambodia.

Both sides also agreed to further enhance bilateral relations and cooperation.

Obama visited Cambodia for two days to attend the 4th ASEAN-U.S. Leaders’ meeting and the 7th East Asia Summit.

Obama arrived here on Monday afternoon after visiting Thailand and Myanmar in a three-nation trip from Nov. 17-20 to prove the U. S. renewed interest in the Southeast Asian region as part of the U. S. pivot to Asia and Pacific strategy.

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