Beginning his first official visit to the U.S. for a summit with fellow Asean leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama in California this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday evening that he was not interested in critiques leveled by his American hosts.
Speaking to hundreds of supporters at a hotel near the site of the summit in Rancho Mirage, California, Mr. Hun Sen said he had not even bothered to read a recent letter from U.S. lawmakers commenting on Cambodia’s human rights situation.
“You have the right to send me a letter; I have the right not to receive it,” Mr. Hun Sen told the audience—including a number of prominent members of the Cambodian-American community—in a video posted to Facebook.
In a letter to Mr. Hun Sen dated February 11, a group of seven Democratic U.S. senators expressed their concern over the human rights record of his government, citing the brutal beating of two CNRP lawmakers outside the National Assembly in October, along with NGO reports on land grabbing and human trafficking.
“I ordered that the letter be put back in the envelope and sent back to the original senders,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“Even if it’s a letter from Obama, I would never receive it if the letter was just insulting me,” he added, to applause from his audience.
Mr. Hun Sen’s trip to the U.S. has been mired in controversy.
Dozens of human rights groups have called on Mr. Obama to address human rights abuses in the region, despite the summit ostensibly focusing on trade and security.
“Obama should also publicly press Hun Sen to end violence and harassment of opposition supporters, drop criminal charges against peaceful protesters, and release all political prisoners in the country,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement released earlier this month.
Activists in the U.S. have also promised public protests against the prime minister during the two-day summit at the Sunnylands resort. Vibol Touch, president of the Cambodia-America Alliance, an activist group that is organizing the demonstration, said in an online message on Monday that he expected a turnout of 500 protesters.
Mr. Hun Sen has warned that any protests held against him could lead to counterdemonstrations back in Cambodia, and ruling party supporters have alluded to possible violent retribution against CNRP officials.
The opposition party has repeatedly said it is not involved with the Cambodian-American activists.
In a post to his Facebook page on Monday, hours before the Cambodia-America Alliance’s protest was set to begin, Mr. Hun Sen said demonstrations would only play into the hands of his foreign critics.
“Please do not have internal disputes and then take those disputes abroad, tearing each other apart and destroying Cambodians’ happiness, making foreigners trample and look down on our race,” he wrote.
Mr. Hun Sen has previously shown his sensitivity to protests staged against him in foreign countries. After he was met by protesters during a trip to France in October, he warned of counterprotests in Cambodia. The next day, two opposition lawmakers were beaten and left with severe injuries at an anti-CNRP protest outside Parliament.
In the past week, the CNRP has sent letters to both the Interior Ministry and Phnom Penh City Hall asking for increased protection in response to the threat of violent counterdemonstrations.
In a letter addressed to Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong on Monday, Morn Phalla, head of the CNRP’s executive committee in Phnom Penh, cited a video posted to the Facebook page of a man named Saing Song, who said his group, Youth Alliance and CPP Supporters, would stage a counter-protest outside the CNRP’s headquarters if demonstrations went ahead in the U.S.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said on Monday that he didn’t know who Mr. Song was but supported his right to hold such a protest.
“The CPP does not organize demonstrations to stage against this or that person,” Mr. Eysan said.
“But it’s the will of the CPP’s members and supporters to hold it if there’s a big protest in the U.S.”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed he had received the letter, which he said had been sent to “national and local authorities,” and claimed that security was being provided to all of the country’s lawmakers.
“It’s our duty to give protection and ensure safety to all lawmakers and their residences,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter which party lawmakers come from.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that Interior Minister Sar Kheng had responded to the CNRP’s letter by ordering ministry officials and police to “fulfill their respective tasks according to the existing law.”