Following a meeting with a visiting U.S. diplomat on Wednesday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Ouch Borith said the U.S. shares Cambodia’s concerns about a controversial hydropower dam Laos is planning to build on the Mekong River.
Cambodia and Vietnam both fear that the 256-MW Don Sahong dam in southern Laos will severely reduce vital fish stocks in the Lower Mekong and its tributaries.
Mr. Borith said that Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department’s bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, shared the two countries’ worry.
“We have concerns that this huge dam that Laos wants to build will affect the Mekong,” Mr. Borith told reporters after the meeting. “Mr. Scot said that [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry has also discussed this and has pushed Laos to host a summit in Laos by the end of the year.”
In June, Laos agreed to postpone construction of the dam until it consults with its neighbors.
Mr. Borith said Mr. Marciel also asked him about the status of a draft memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and Australia that would see refugees detained while trying to reach Australia resettled in Cambodia.
The deal has come under widespread rebuke from opposition lawmakers and rights groups in both Cambodia and Australia because it would send the refugees to one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world.
Mr. Borith said he told the U.S. diplomat that proposals were still being reviewed, but declined to say anything else about the pending deal, which both Cambodia and Australia have shrouded in secrecy.
“No discussion at all, he just want[ed] to know what the situation is,” he said.
Mr. Marciel, he added, also welcomed the recent political settlement that saw the opposition CNRP end its yearlong boycott of the National Assembly over 2013’s national elections, which the opposition accuses the CPP of rigging.
Mr. Marciel did not stop to speak with reporters after the meeting, and the U.S. Embassy did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
© 2014, The Cambodia Daily.
FILE – U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Scot Marciel gestures during a press conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 4, 2013.
The U.S. has made a recent diplomatic push in Asia, where China’s influence continues to grow. But Marciel said Wednesday the U.S. is “not focused on what China is doing here.”
“We’re really focused on what we can do, how we can build a relationship with the people and the nation of Cambodia, a closer relationship,” he said.
Cambodia suffered a nearly yearlong political deadlock following 2013 elections that the opposition said were marred by fraud.
A political deal last month led to an end of the opposition boycott of the assembly and has opened space for negotiations on electoral and democratic reforms.
Marciel, who was on a three-day trip to the country as part of a visit to several ASEAN nations, met with Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No details were made available about their meeting. Still, Marciel said Wednesday that Cambodia’s moves toward reforms are encouraging.
“The people here have made clear that they would like to see some more reforms, some progress on some of the challenges that Cambodia faces, and we feel the same way,” he said. “We are hopeful that the government and the parliament, now that it is seated, can move ahead on some of the reforms that people here have called for. We think that would be a positive step.”
The U.S. would like to see continued reform over the National Election Committee, he said, as well as renewed efforts to battle corruption and improve governance, the judicial system and the country’s human rights record.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.