Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is to visit Vietnam this week in a bid to boost ties with the neighboring ally, a government statement said as the opposition steps up demonstrations demanding his resignation and a re-election following disputed polls.
He will be accompanied by at least four senior ministers during the Dec 26-28 trip at the invitation of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the statement said on Monday, a day after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said it drew 500,000 supporters in the largest protest to date against fraud and other irregularities in the July 28 elections .
Hun Sen and Dung will hold talks and witness the signing of eight agreements, including a treaty on extradition as well as those on cooperation in public security, trade, education, and information, according to the statement by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The statement said that Hun Sen is also scheduled to meet with Vietnamese National Assembly (parliament) chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung, President Troung Tan Sang, and Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong.
CNRP leaders and some analysts in Phnom Penh termed Hun Sen's visit unusual, especially at a time when he is facing daily opposition demonstrations in the capital.
CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha charged that Hun Sen might use the trip to seek Vietnam's support to hold on to power, adding that the premier should discuss the country's problems with Cambodians instead of foreign leaders.
“He is asking Vietnam to back up his power, but Vietnam can’t protect him anymore. Cambodians won’t allow any foreign countries to invade the country,” Kem Sokha said.
Many Cambodians are wary of Vietnam’s influence over their country’s affairs.
An estimated 1.7 million people, or one in four Cambodians, died in what came to be called the “Killing Fields” after the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. The regime was unseated when Vietnam invaded the country four years later.
Vietnam occupied the country for a decade before withdrawing its troops and signing the Paris Peace Agreement to restore sovereignty and stability to Cambodia.
“Cambodians are standing up," Kem Sokha said. "Hun Sen has made a lot of mistakes. He doesn’t need to ask what kinds of mistakes he has made.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association and Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said he was surprised to hear about Hun Sen’s trip to Vietnam amid the current political tensions.
“It is too much of a coincidence that his trip happens to take place during demonstrations demanding he step down,” he said. “We know that for the past 30 years the [ruling Cambodian People's Party] CPP has been holding on to power because of Vietnamese help."
CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha on Sunday led the the largest opposition demonstration since the disputed July elections as the 500,000 crowd marched through the streets of Phnom Penh calling for Hun to step down and to announce new polls.
The CNRP, which has boycotted parliament saying it was robbed of victory due to poll fraud, launched daily mass protests a week ago to force a re-election after its calls for an independent election probe into irregularities were dismissed by the government.
It has vowed to keep up daily protests for three months or until there is a fresh vote.
But Hun Sen has rejected the call for his resignation and fresh elections, saying there is no provision in the country's constitution that allows for a re-election.
“They ask me to resign, but what have I done wrong?” Hun Sen had said on Friday. “I obtained my position by means of the constitution and I will only leave it by means of the constitution,” he said.
Hun Sen, who has been premier for the last 28 years, said that according to article 78 of the constitution, the National Assembly shall not be dissolved before the end of its five-year term, except when the government is twice deposed within a period of 12 months.
The Cambodian opposition has been critical of Hun Sen's close ties with Vietnam.
The CNRP had previously pledged to reclaim an island off the country’s southern coast from Vietnam if it won the elections. Phu Quoc Island—known in Khmer as Koh Tral Island—has been administered by Vietnam for the last 150 years.
At least two lawsuits were filed by the authorities earlier this year against Kem Sokha for allegedly saying that a prison in Phnom Penh run by the notorious Khmer Rouge regime had been faked by Vietnam—a charge the CNRP has denied.
His purported comments prompted a mass protest against him in what opposition members said was a rally staged by the ruling party.
Sam Rainsy had also been convicted and ordered jailed in 2009 for the removal of a temporary post demarcating Cambodia’s border with Vietnam and for publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam, charges that were seen as politically motivated.
He was given a pardon by the country's King, enabling him to return from self-exile in France just before the July elections.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.