Cambodia’s Hun Sen Points to Trump Letter as Sign of US Support

khmer-trump3-112219.gif Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is shown with US President Donald Trump at an ASEAN meeting in the Philippines, Nov. 12, 2017.
Facebook / Hun Sen

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen pointed this week to a Nov. 1 letter from U.S. President Donald Trump as a signal of unqualified U.S. support for his government, noting that Trump said the United States does not seek “regime change” in the autocratic Southeast Asian state.

“The U.S. promises to respect our sovereignty,” Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page after meeting on Thursday with U.S. Ambassador Patrick Murphy, adding that the U.S. has also offered help to Cambodia to combat money laundering, along with “other technical supports.”

Absent from Hun Sen’s Facebook post, however, was any mention of Trump’s statement that while “My government seeks a relationship with your government based on mutual respect,” Cambodia must now enact political reforms.

“It is imperative for the future of our bilateral relationship that you put Cambodia back on the path of democratic governance,” Trump wrote.

On Friday, government spokesman Phay Siphan welcomed Trump’s statement of support, calling it a promise of noninterference and gesture of goodwill, but analysts meanwhile said that local media in Cambodia have failed to report the full contents of Trump’s letter.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, political science commentator Em Sovannara said the U.S. would like Cambodia to adhere to the democratic principles promised in Cambodia’s own constitution.

“I believe that the United States is still concerned about the situation of human rights and democracy in our country,” Em Sovannara said.

'Only the positive parts'

Also speaking to RFA, analyst Meas Nee said that Cambodian media have so far reported only the “positive parts” of Trump’s letter to Hun Sen, who has now governed Cambodia for over 30 years.

“The U.S. is reminding us to return to respecting human rights and democracy, so this clearly means our country is having trouble with these issues,” he said.

On Thursday, Hun Sen waved off concerns over pressure from the European Union to improve the country's human rights record or risk losing its preferential trade status, saying that his government is prepared to pay additional taxes and make a profit even without the trade scheme.

The EU launched the process to strip Cambodia of its preferential trade terms following the arrest of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha and the banning of the popular party in 2017 ahead of elections last year.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court eased restrictions on Kem Sokha’s de facto house arrest earlier this month, although Hun Sen says he must still face treason charges, which could result in up to 30 years in prison.

Fear of persecution, arrest

Meanwhile, a CNRP activist in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province has postponed his scheduled wedding, saying a warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges of plotting against the government.

Speaking to RFA, Chhin Sokngeign said he is being persecuted because he wants to help restore democracy in Cambodia and that he has now left Cambodia to seek asylum in another country.

“I don’t want to be separated from the woman I love. This is a big sacrifice. But I believe we will be able to return home soon,” he said.

Seventy-five previously detained CNRP activists have now been released on bail, though 20 more are still being held, CNRP lawyers say.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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