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Staff writer

Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi intends to visit Cambodia immediately following the July 26 elections in the Southeast Asian nation, Foreign Ministry sources said Friday.

The planned first visit to Phnom Penh by Obuchi, who took the post last autumn, is aimed at demonstrating Japan’s firm will to play an active role in ensuring the political stability and economic development of postelection Cambodia, the sources said.

Obuchi plans to fly to the Cambodian capital directly after attending an annual meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its so-called dialogue partners slated for late July in Manila, they said.

The Foreign Ministry is also considering having Obuchi visit Laos and Vietnam on his way to or back home from Cambodia in order to show Japan’s readiness to aid in the economic development of all Indochinese nations, they said.

If Obuchi visits Phnom Penh at the end of July, he is expected to be the first high-level government official of a major industrialized country to do so after the elections, the sources said. It appears still uncertain, however, whether Obuchi’s planned visit to Phnom Penh will materialize because of uncertainties regarding domestic politics following the Upper House elections slated for mid-July.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Although Laos and Myanmar were admitted to the formerly anticommunist bloc last summer, Cambodia was not due to domestic political turmoil.

If the July elections are held freely and fairly, as demanded by the international community, and if the political situation in Cambodia returns to normal after the vote, the nine ASEAN nations are expected to admit Cambodia into the group during their December summit meeting in Hanoi.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s strongman, has drawn harsh criticism from the international community for ousting his ruling coalition partner, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a bloody coup last July.

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