Cambodia snubs critical UN rights envoy

The UN human rights envoy to Cambodia voiced regret Friday at an apparent snub by government officials adding he was also "surprised" by criticism he has received for highlighting rights abuses.

"I very much regret that I was not able to interact with government interlocutors this time," Surya Subedi told reporters in Phnom Penh, after a trip to Cambodia concluded without the usual meetings with senior officials.

"I would be looking to hear directly from the government, from appropriate channels, as to the reasons why," he said.

The snub comes after Subedi published reports this year expressing concern over an uptick in violent land conflicts, freedom of speech restrictions and a perceived lack of independence in the court system.

Strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen indicated on Thursday that he had no intention of meeting Subedi, warning against people acting "like the bosses of Cambodia".

"I don't have time to meet him and listen to his advice," he said in a speech on national radio. "Why is it for me to take responsibility before foreigners?"

It marks the second time Hun Sen has openly lashed out at Subedi, after urging the Nepal-born envoy in October to "go and help his own country".

Subedi, who became UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia in 2009 after his predecessor resigned amid a war of words with Phnom Penh, said he was taken aback by the personal attack.

"I must say I am a little surprised by the reaction to some of my recommendations," he said. "The focus should remain on the substance of what I am recommending, and not on me as a person."

But he added that he was "hopeful" of returning to a normal working relationship with the government soon.

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism from rights groups in recent years for allegedly cracking down on dissidents and protesters in cases that are often linked to land disputes.

Subedi expressed "serious concern" in the high-profile case of jailed government critic and radio station owner Mam Sonando who was denied bail by a court of appeal on Friday.

US President Barack Obama told Hun Sen last month that his government's human rights violations were "an impediment" to better bilateral ties.

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