US Rejects Charges of Interfering in Cambodian Politics, But Criticizes Crackdown

khmer-chiefs-111417.jpg Detained CNRP members (2nd, 3rd, and 4th from right) are shown at CPP offices in Kampong Trach, Nov. 14, 2017.

U.S. diplomats pushed back on Tuesday against Cambodian government accusations that the United States has meddled in Cambodia’s internal affairs, calling the charges unfounded and harmful to improved and productive relations between the two countries.

Meeting with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn on the sidelines of East Asia Summit talks in the Philippine capital Manila, W. Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia, and Matt Pottinger, Deputy Assistant to the President, voiced concern over Cambodia’s deteriorating political climate.

“[They cited] restrictions on the free press, civil society, and the political opposition,” the United States Mission to ASEAN said in a Nov. 14 statement.

“The U.S. delegation also pointed with deep concern to the continued detention of Kem Sokha, the leader of the political opposition,” the statement said.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 for allegedly collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and Cambodia’s Supreme Court is expected to decide on Nov. 16 whether to disband the CNRP for its alleged involvement in the “conspiracy."

On Nov. 10, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed threats of sanctions by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz over the jailing of Kem Sokha on charges of treason, saying American laws cannot be applied to his country and rejecting the need for international recognition of elections set for 2018.

U.S. Senators John McCain and Dick Durbin have meanwhile drafted a resolution in support of a bill urging the U.S. State Department and Treasury Department to block the assets of senior Cambodian officials and prevent U.S. nationals from doing business with them.

Stepped-up pressure

Cambodian authorities are meanwhile stepping up pressure on elected members of the political opposition to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), threatening them with loss of their jobs in the event their own party is dissolved, sources say.

On Nov. 14, officials in the Kampong Trach district of southwestern Cambodia’s Kampot province took into custody two CNRP commune chiefs and a commune council officer who had previously resisted efforts to force them to defect, a local source told RFA’s Khmer Service.

Boeng Sala Khang Cheung commune leader Srey Ann, Kampong Trach Khang Lech commune leader Cheng Tann, and commune council assistant Prum Ngean were released only after agreeing to sign a document pledging them to join the CPP, district council member Him Neang told RFA.

“They have never committed any crimes, and they go to work every day,” he said. “They were made to sign a contract, and they are terrified now.”

“I am also being targeted now. People are asking for my address,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, Kampot province police chief Mao Chanmeakthurith denied knowledge of the incident, adding that in any case many voluntary changes of party affiliation by CNRP party members have already occurred.

Officials have meanwhile put local CNRP offices under watch, with four security personnel sent to monitor the daily activities of the executive director of the Kampong Trach district office and at least 18 armed officers deployed in front of CNRP offices in Kampot town, sources say.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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