Cambodia’s government on Wednesday dismissed a bill written by a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers last week to “support the successful implementation of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement” that ended civil war in Cambodia and established the Southeast Asian nation as a fledgling democracy.
On May 14, senators Lindsey Graham, Dick Durban and Marco Rubio introduced the bill, known as the “Cambodia Accountability and Return on Investment Act of 2019,” which says that Congress will not authorize funds to assist Cambodia’s government unless it immediately release opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha from de facto house arrest.
Kem Sokha was arrested for “treason” in September 2017, and two months later the Supreme Court banned the CNRP for its role in his alleged plot to topple the government.
Cambodia drew condemnation from Western trade partners and aid donors after the Supreme Court decision, which paved the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to steamroll a general election in July last year widely seen as unfree and unfair.
Last week’s bill also called for the immediate and unconditional release from detention of all other opposition members and civil society representatives, the dismissal of politically motivated charges against acting CNRP chief Sam Rainsy, who is living abroad in self-imposed exile, and the repeal of the 2017 and 2019 amendments to the Law on Political Parties that permitted the dissolution of the CNRP.
The bill also deems individuals who undermine democracy in Cambodia and their immediate family members inadmissible to the U.S., and directs the Department of Treasury to block their assets.
Lastly, the bill calls for funding to establish internet-based Khmer-language programs that inform the people of Cambodia on the role of the international community in supporting the implementation of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, and China’s role in undermining the sovereignty of Cambodia through its influence on senior officials and strategic designs on the country’s geography for military purposes.
The Paris Peace Agreement ended war between Vietnam and Cambodia on Oct. 23, 1991 and led to the United Nation’s administration of Cambodia’s government while the country transitioned to a system of democratic elections.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said he had little interest in a bill written by “senators seeking political benefits,” and urged Washington to “end its culture of colonization” against Cambodia.
“The Senators must acknowledge that Cambodia is enjoying peace and harmony,” he said.
Political commentator Kim Sok told RFA that as a signatory to the Paris Peace Agreement, the U.S. has every right to step in when Cambodia’s government engages in the abuse of human rights and the destruction of democracy.
“It is the U.S.’s duty to encourage the government of Cambodia to implement the [Paris] agreement,” he said.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said the bill signals that the U.S. is adhering to the Paris Peace Agreement, just as the CNRP in exile is awaiting the opportunity to restore democracy to Cambodia.
“The CNRP is urging the government to adhere to the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement and the constitution, and set democracy free.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.