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Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's senior Asia aide has expressed concerns to Cambodia's government about the detention of the main opposition leader and restrictions on the press and civil society, a U.S. statement said on Tuesday.

Senior Director for Asian Affairs Matt Pottinger and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia W. Patrick Murphy met Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn on the sidelines of the East Asia summit in Manila, the statement said.

Their meeting in the Philippines came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen lauded Trump during his meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"The U.S. side forthrightly expressed strong concerns about recent steps that challenge the country's democratic progress," the statement from the U.S. mission to ASEAN said.

"The U.S. delegation also pointed with deep concern to the continued detention of Kem Sokha".

Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 and accused of plotting treason with unnamed Americans in a deepening crackdown on opponents of Hun Sen, who faces elections next year in which he seeks to extend over 32 years in power.

Cambodia's Supreme Court is due to rule on Thursday on whether to dissolve Kem Sokha's Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

While Hun Sen and the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh have been caught in a deepening row and the State Department has also called for Kem Sokha's release, the White House has not previously been publicly involved.

The U.S. statement also complained of "unfounded accusations and criticisms of the United States" including its diplomats.

Cambodian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Hun Sen praised Trump as a kindred spirit on Monday and called on him to stop interference by the U.S. embassy. He welcomed Trump's policy of non-interference in other countries.

Trump earlier left the Philippines at the end of a 12-day Asia tour.

(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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