Obama sticks to human rights-democracy agenda in Cambodia while attending ASEAN Summit
Making history twice within hours, President Barack Obama on Monday became the first U.S. president to set foot in Cambodia, a country once known for its Khmer Rouge "killing fields." He left behind flag-waving crowds on the streets of Myanmar, the once internationally shunned nation now showing democratic promise, Associated Press reported.
Unlike the visit to Myanmar, where Obama seemed to revel in that nation's new hope, the White House has made clear that Obama is only in Cambodia to attend an East Asia Summit and said the visit should not be seen as an endorsement of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government he has led since the 1980s.
As Obama arrived in Cambodia, he was dogged by concerns from human rights groups that have cast Hun Sen as a violent authoritarian and have voiced apprehension that Obama's visit will be perceived within Cambodia as validation of the prime minister's regime.
Mr. Obama has voiced concerns about Cambodia's human rights record in what U.S. officials describe as a "tense" meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Obama, who arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh, Monday, raised the issue of free and fair elections and the detention of political prisoners.
U.S Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama told the prime minister those issues are an "impediment" to the United States and Cambodia developing a deeper relationship.
Cambodian officials said in response that the concerns about human rights are exaggerated.
After the talks with Hun Sen, the U.S. president met with the 10 leaders attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in the capital.
Cambodian rights groups voiced disappointment about the adoption at the summit of an ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, saying the declaration does not go far enough to ensure rights for all people. The head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Ou Virak said that, for example, the declaration gives people the right to demonstrate, but not if the demonstrations affect a country's social order.
President Obama arrived in Phnom Penh from Burma, where he addressed a crowd at the University of Rangoon earlier in the day. Obama said he had come to keep his promise and extend "the hand of friendship." He added that "flickers of progress" that have been seen must not be extinguished, but must become - in his words - "a shining North Star" for all the nation's people.
Earlier in the day, Obama met separately with Burmese President Thein Sein and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in the country's main city of Rangoon.
- Asian Tribune -