Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, right, walks with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Ruth Sherman, left, prior to their meeting at the Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 29, 2021. (OZAN KOSE / POOL / AP)
PHNOM PENH – US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday for the second leg of a regional tour, making her the most senior US official to visit the Southeast Asian country in almost a decade.
The deputy secretary of state's trip comes amid an ongoing crackdown on opposition figures and against rights activists for speaking up about issues such as illegal logging.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is the most senior US official to visit Cambodia in almost a decade
Sherman, who is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen, civil society groups and journalists, has faced calls from rights groups for her to bring up human rights and the country's record on media freedom during her time in the country.
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The main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was banned and its leader Kem Sokha arrested before the 2018 election, allowing Hun Sen's ruling party to win every parliamentary seat, prompting international concern.
The visit also takes place amid deteriorating ties between Cambodia and the United States, as well as the European Union, in recent years.
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Government spokesman Phay Siphan called for dialogue between Cambodia and the United States.
"There are some issues that the United States doesn't understand clearly about Cambodia and that Cambodia does not understand the intentions of the United States," Phay Siphan told Reuters.
"So for this meeting, if we are honest with each other and put issues on the table, then we can solve the problems," he added.