Hun Sen brushes off US ban

Cambodia has dismissed a US attempt to seek retribution for its clampdown on democracy and human rights, as it increasingly becomes a one-party state under its veteran prime minister, Hun Sen.

The US State Department said this week that it would deny visas to Cambodian figures deemed to have “undermined democracy”.

That came after the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh last month disbanded the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and redistributed its seats to groups allied with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.

The decision followed the arrest of CNRP boss Kem Sokha for treason as many of his colleagues have opted for exile.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for Cambodia’s military filed a complaint against Kem Sokha’s self-exiled predecessor, Sam Rainsy, for “incitement”. Hun Sen this week said Rainsy’s comments encouraging personnel to defy orders to fire on demonstrators had amounted to “treason”.

From Paris last weekend, Sam Rainsy had posted on Facebook that the armed forces should “not to shoot and kill innocent people” even if ordered to do so.

Vong Pheakdey, lawyer for the RCAF, told reporters that he “filed complaint against Sam Rainsy for inciting the armed forces to cause insecurity to the state”.

Washington said its move was a “direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions”. Hun Sen, who has led Cambodia since the mid-1980s, appears to have tightened his grip on power after seeing how little the west did to oppose the military take over in Thailand in May 2014.

China now supports Cambodia economically, reducing Phnom Penh’s reliance on western aid and loans that Russia is offering also lend moral support for Hun Sen’s clampdown. Russia’s media has so far been silent on the end of Cambodia’s democratic experiment.

“If Cambodian people cannot go to US, it is OK, it is not a problem,” spokesman Sok Eysan said. “If we cannot join any meetings in the US, there are many other meetings outside the US that we can join.”

Huy Vannak at the Ministry of Interior said the US action was a “desperate measure” that undermined Donald Trump’s “policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states”.

The authorities have singled out US-funded media organisations that have carried critical reports. Access to Voice of America has been limited and Radio Free Asia was forced to close its Cambodian office.

Two former RFA journalists have been arrested and charged with espionage.

Cambodia’s police and judiciary are highly politicised. Picture credit: Wikimedia