US to deny visas to Cam­bo­dian of­fi­cials

The Jakarta Post - - AEAN 50 - Eric Walsh and Prak Chan Thul

The United States said on Wed­nes­day it would re­strict en­try to peo­ple involved in the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions to un­der­mine democ­racy, in­clud­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of the main op­po­si­tion party and im­pris­on­ment of its leader.

The visa sanc­tions were the tough­est steps by any Western coun­try since a crack­down on crit­ics of Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen ahead of an elec­tion next year in which the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader seeks to ex­tend more than three decades in power.

“We call on the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment to re­verse course by re­in­stat­ing the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion, re­leas­ing Kem Sokha, and al­low­ing civil so­ci­ety and me­dia to re­sume their con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected ac­tiv­i­ties,” the State De­part­ment said in a state­ment.

“The sec­re­tary of state will re­strict en­try into the United States of those in­di­vid­u­als involved in un­der­min­ing democ­racy in Cam­bo­dia. In cer­tain cir­cum­stances, fam­ily mem­bers of those in­di­vid­u­als will also be sub­ject to visa re­stric­tions,” it added.

Cam­bo­dia’s Supreme Court dis­solved the main op­po­si­tion party, the Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party (CNRP), last month at the gov­ern­ment’s re­quest.

Kem Sokha was ar­rested for al­legedly plot­ting to over­throw the gov­ern­ment with US help. He has re­jected the ac­cu­sa­tion as a po­lit­i­cal ploy.

The dis­so­lu­tion of the CNRP has been con­demned by some Western coun­tries as the most se­ri­ous blow to democ­racy since an in­ter­na­tional peace deal and United Nations-run elec­tions in the early 1990s ended decades of war and geno­cide.

Cam­bo­dia’s gov­ern­ment con­demned the visa re­stric­tions an­nounced by Wash­ing­ton.

“This state­ment shows that the United States is de­stroy­ing democ­racy,” gov­ern­ment spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters, say­ing that the ac­tions against the op­po­si­tion had been le­gal and took place through the courts and par­lia­ment.

“The CNRP are not politi­cians, they are rebels and ter­ror­ists,” he said.

The US said af­ter the ban­ning of the CNRP that the elec­tion “will not be le­git­i­mate, free or fair,” and with­drew an of­fer to help fund it.

The Euro­pean Union has raised the possibility of with­draw­ing trade pref­er­ences which are vi­tal for the gar­ment in­dus­try that ac­counted for well over 60 per­cent of Cam­bo­dia’s ex­ports last year.

Hun Sen has dis­missed Western pres­sure and built closer ties to China, while op­pos­ing US ef­forts to rally South­east Asian coun­tries to stand up to Bei­jing’s ex­pand­ing power in the re­gion.

Ear­lier on Wed­nes­day, Hun Sen ac­cused Sam Rainsy, who stepped down as CNRP leader ear­lier this year in a bid to fore­stall a ban on the party, of com­mit­ting trea­son by in­cit­ing sol­diers to defy or­ders.

Hun Sen said Rainsy, who lives in ex­ile in France, would face new le­gal ac­tion over the com­ments.

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