PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — An envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Cambodia on Friday for talks on regional issues and bilateral cooperation, also touching on the July election that critics say will be neither free nor fair.
Kentaro Sonoura was scheduled to hold talks Friday with Prime Minister Hun Sen, the long-serving autocratic leader whose government recently dissolved the main opposition party in a serious blow to democracy.
A Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sonoura told Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn of Tokyo’s desire to see a free and fair election.
Chum Suonry said Sonoura expressed no wish to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs while he also wants to see Cambodia have a good relationship with the entire international community.
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He said Prak Sokhonn told his guest that measures the government has taken targeting its political opponents were based on the rule of law and to maintain the country’s peace and stability.
Cambodia’s sole credible opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved last November after a court ruled that it was involved in trying to overthrow Hun Sen’s government. All its members were tossed out of parliament.
Opposition party leaders have been subjected to legal harassment, with one founder in exile and the other in jail awaiting trial on a treason charge. The court system is considered politicized and normally rules in the government’s favor. The government also intensified restrictions on civil society groups and independent media outlets, all but ensuring that Hun Sen will face no serious challenge at the polls.
These actions are generally seen as part of an intense push by Hun Sen’s government and his Cambodian People’s Party to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of July’s general election.
A statement this week to the U.N. Human Rights Council endorsed by 45 mostly Western nations urged improvements in Cambodia’s rights situation ahead of the polls.
Wednesday’s joint statement, with signatories ranging from Albania to the United States but not including Japan, expressed “deep concern about the recent serious decline of civil and political rights in Cambodia.”
“These backward steps include signs of escalating repression of the political opposition, civil society and media,” it said.
Tokyo in February announced 800 million yen ($7.6 million) in grant aid to Cambodia that includes Japanese-made ballot boxes and other equipment to be used in the election. Japan has supported previous elections as well.