May 21, 2018

New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

Alan Lowenthal, a US Democrat representative from California, speaks at a press conference in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2016. AFP

Ben Sokhean | The Phnom Penh Post 
Publication date 21 May 2018 | 09:40 ICT

After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty of Cambodia”.

Called the Cambodian Democracy Act of 2018, HR5754, and introduced on Thursday, the legislation would freeze assets, restrict all financial transactions with the US, and deny entry into the US all senior Cambodian government, military and security officials who US President Donald Trump determines have “directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia”.

Alan Lowenthal, a Democratic Party congressman representing a California district, said in a statement on Thursday: “My colleagues and I have warned the Hun Sen government over and over that it must abide by the agreements it signed to hold democratic elections.”

“Yet the 30-year regime of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has done away with any and all pretense that it will conduct free and fair elections this year,” the statement continued.

“This regime has threatened, attacked, jailed, and then outright banned the nation’s major opposition political party. This regime has destroyed the free and independent press in the country, banished NGOs and international organisations, and subverted the national judicial system to do its dirty work.

“It is time that Hun Sen pays a price for his efforts to destroy the burgeoning democracy that was beginning to flower in Cambodia.”

Florida Congressman Ted S Yoho of the Republican Party and chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said in a press release last week that the “Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 will push back against the undermining of democracy and related human rights abuses by applying financial sanctions to the figures who carry out the agenda and codifying the administration’s existing visa restrictions for these individuals”.

“This bill will help the people of Cambodia in their pursuit of democracy by imposing costs on Hun Sen’s consolidation of power,” he wrote.

Phay Siphan, government spokesperson, told The Post on Sunday that the US congressmen’s effort to enact a law to sanction Cambodian government officials could be seen as interference into Cambodia’s internal affairs and could deteriorate the relationship between the two countries. He said the amendment is “unpredictable”, as Trump may not implement it even if it is adopted by Congress.

“Does the pressure affect the Cambodian government and Cambodians? My answer to that is no, it does not. There is no influence and effect because we see some laws which are the political will of lawmakers and do not reflect the rights and interests of the US – they are just to create enemies with another country,” he said.

‘Puppets will face action’

Sok Eysan, a Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson, said the bill, along with other pressure being applied by the US, is “proof the US supports those who commit treason”.

“[This is] an act that violates the independence and sovereignty of Cambodia,” he said. “The making of rules to press the Royal Government of Cambodia and its people will not have any results. The leaders and puppets who want to unleash a colour revolution in Cambodia are the real destroyers of Cambodia’s democracy, and the puppets will face legal action from Cambodia’s laws.”

Eysan added that the US delegation that recently visited Cambodia said they would support justice for Cambodia’s government and people.

Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath welcomed this legislation but said he hoped it would not impact the poor or people in general in Cambodia.

“I welcome the effort made by the US Congress and Senate to restore democracy in Cambodia. The Cambodian Democracy Act shall be an effective pressure on the Cambodian government and high-ranking officials.

“But I just hope that the sanctions would not have negative impacts on the poor and the general population in Cambodia. However, I would still prefer talks between and amongst our Cambodian leaders for political solutions.”

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