Hun Sen called on Cambodians in North America who are unhappy with his leadership not to damage the Kingdom’s “national interests and image” by attempting to tarnish his reputation through protests while he is on an official visit to the UN.
The prime minister said on Thursday that the people must distinguish between the two “using their own personal conscience”.
Having been expected to lead one such “mass protest” of thousands on Saturday, opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Wednesday night tweeted his apologies for being unable to do so due to “work commitments”.
“My apologies are due as I will be unable to attend in New York on Saturday, September 29, due to work commitments elsewhere. Many thanks to all those who are able to attend this important rally,” he said.
Hun Sen began his official visit to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Thursday when he made his call.
“For Cambodians who reside abroad and don’t like me, please separate clearly between Hun Sen’s reputation and the national interests and image of Cambodia as a whole, and according to your personal conscience,” he said.
Before his arrival in New York, Hun Sen posted on Facebook an image of himself on an aeroplane, with a comment saying he was leaving to “serve the nation”, reminding people that during the Cambodian civil war era he had risked his life to rescue the Kingdom.
“Today I leave to serve the nation once more by employing diplomacy on the international stage. Cambodia cannot be ruined at any cost. This time I will participate in difficult and complicated regional and international affairs,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, Hun Sen said that as well as world leaders, he planned to meet Cambodian communities in the US and Canada.
“I will take the opportunity to meet and speak with Cambodian-Americans who live [in North America],” he said.
“Regardless of where they live, they are still part of one big Cambodian family.
Before the UNGA, Hun Sen said he will focus on “recent developments and the major achievements made by the Royal Government, as well as various regional and international issues of common concern”.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser for international affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said he believed Hun Sen will likely reap benefits and consequences from his decision not to negotiate with the former leader of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) after foreign countries had called for such talks.
“The benefit is that Hun Sen does not have to compromise with the opposition, placing his own interests first. The consequences are that by not compromising, Hun Sen risks drawing Cambodia into increased political conflict and entrenching the current party dictatorship,” he said.
‘Not a coincidence’
On whether opposition protests against the prime minister in North America would result in the start of political dialogue or simply harden Hun Sen’s stance, Chambers said: “Most likely Hun Sen will further clamp down on the opposition at home while promising more freedom for Cambodia when he is abroad.”
Political analyst Hang Vitou said he believed that Rainsy’s sudden cancellation of his plans to lead Friday’s demonstration due to “work commitments elsewhere” was not a “coincidence”.
He said the opposition party wanted to reduce political tension in order to bring about negotiations or to ask for more activists to have criminal charges dropped or be pardoned.
“It is not a coincidence. The immediate and sudden cancellation of his protest plans reveals that Rainsy has changed strategy to bring about a calmer political situation.
“This is a political message from the opposition that it wants to lighten political tension and forge opportunities for negotiations or ask for more prisoners to be released,” Vitou said.”