Sweden threatens to review engagement with Cambodia
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Sweden said on Thursday it would rethink its engagement with Cambodia if the main opposition party is dissolved, in the strongest warning yet from a Western aid donor.
Excluding the opposition party would allow veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen a clear field to extend his 32-year rule at the next election in 2018.
Swedish Human Rights Ambassador Annika Ben David told a news conference at the end of a five-day visit the banning of the opposition party could have consequences.
“Should the Cambodia National Rescue Party be dissolved, this will force my government to rethink our engagement Cambodia,” she said.
Other Western countries have condemned the arrest of Kem Sokha and warned against dissolving the CNRP, but have not raised the possibility of action.
David did not elaborate on what Sweden might do.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan rejected David’s comments as interference in Cambodia’s sovereignty and an insult.
“This is language that the royal government can’t accept,” Phay Siphan told Reuters. “This is an invasion and insult to the Cambodian national institution.”
Sweden had given Cambodia an estimated $100 million in aid over five years, David said. According to Cambodia’s database of donors, Sweden ranked third for aid among individual EU member states last year after France and Germany.
David also pointed out that Swedish fashion group H&M was an important buyer of clothes from Cambodia’s garment factories – the country’s main export earner.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) has launched a crackdown on its critics, including politicians, independent media and non-government groups.
This week, parliament changed the law so that the CNRP’s seats can be shared amongst other parties if it is dissolved.
While Western governments have for years tried to put pressure on Cambodia over the stifling of democracy and the trampling of human rights, China has become an increasingly important ally and business partner.
Whereas S. 1780 also includes language addressing the ‘‘inadmissibility of Cambodia officials who undermine democracy in Cambodia’’: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) reaffirms the commitment of the United States to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Cambodia;
(2) condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, and urges the cessation of ongoing human rights violations;
(3) urges Prime Minister Hun Sen and the 9 Cambodian People’s Party to end all harassment and intimidation of Cambodia’s opposition and foster an environment where democracy can thrive and 3 flourish;
(4) urges the Department of State, in association with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury, to consider placing all senior Cambodian government officials implicated in the abuses noted above on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list;
(5) urges the Government of Cambodia to free Mr. Kem Sokha immediately and unconditionally;
(6) calls on the Government of Cambodia to respect freedom of the press and the rights of its citizens to freely assemble, protest, and speak out against the government;
(7) supports electoral reform efforts in Cambodia and free and fair elections in 2018 monitored by international observers; and
(8) urges the President to communicate to the Government of Cambodia that if it ignores the recommendations of the international community and maintains the current restrictive and intimidating political environment, the United States Government will have no choice but to determine that the 2018 elections were not conducted freely or fairly because the results could not be an expression of the democratic will of the Cambodian people.