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Cambodian Prime Minister Defends Rights Record

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended his nation's human right record to visiting U.N. rights envoy, Louise Arbour.

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen said his country is being unfairly criticized for rights abuses, particularly by U.N. officials.

Hun Sen lodged his complaint in a meeting Thursday with visiting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

Relations between Cambodia and the U.N. have been tense since March when special envoy Yash Ghai blasted the Hun Sen government for "iron-fisted" leadership, suppression of dissent and lack of reform.

Hun Sen advisor, Eang Sophalleth, says Ghai's criticisms were unacceptable.

"Ghai, he made an announcement, a comment in Cambodia, power is being concentrated to one person, which is a rather inappropriate statement to be issued," Sophalleth said. "And that seemed to be irrelevant to human rights issues, where he's just been in Cambodia for a few days and he made such a statement already."

The prime minister has called for Ghai to be fired for ignoring his government's efforts to expand human rights and democracy.

But Ghai's comments reflect broader international concern over the past year after the Hun Sen government launched a series of criminal defamation lawsuits against government critics. Several activists, an opposition politician and a prominent journalist were temporarily jailed.

Despite his frustrations with the United Nations, Eang Sophalleth says Hun Sen has no plans to stop the U.N. office from doing its job.

"He said that, you know, he has no intention, or he will not close the U.N. human rights office in Cambodia," Sophalleth said.

Cooperation is particularly important now that a joint U.N.-Cambodia genocide tribunal is expected to begin work in July after years of negotiations.

The tribunal will try aging former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

At least 1.7 million Cambodians died from forced labor, starvation or torture under the ultra-Maoist regime. The first trial is scheduled to open next year.

Louise Arbour Wednesday toured the Tuol Sleng genocide museum on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. She wraps up her trip Friday with a news conference in the Cambodian capital.