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Germany puts pressure on Cambodia, ending preferential visa treatment for Hun family and high-ranking officials

The Reichstag, which houses the lower house of the Germain parliament, in Berlin. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently disclosed to parliament measures taken in response to Cambodia’s crackdown on the opposition. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP
The Reichstag, which houses the lower house of the German parliament, in Berlin. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently disclosed to parliament measures taken in response to Cambodia’s crackdown on the opposition. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

Germany puts pressure on Cambodia, ending preferential visa treatment for Hun family and high-ranking officials

In a response to a parliamentary inquiry, the German government on Wednesday laid out a number of measures it has quietly taken over recent months to pressure the Cambodian government following its crackdown on media outlets, NGOs and the political opposition.

The response – which has not yet been made public, but was sent to the German parliament on Wednesday and obtained by The Post on Friday – reveals that the German government suspended preferential visa treatment for private travel by Cambodian government members, “including by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family, by high-ranking military officials and the presidents of the highest Cambodian court”. It also says that Germany has encouraged other European Union members to impose similar measures.

The parliamentary inquiry was submitted under the direction of Frithjof Schmidt and on behalf of 13 other politicians from the Green Party, and revolves around Germany’s response to “the dismantling of democracy and human rights in Cambodia”.

Ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan said the cancellation of preferential visa treatment was “not a shame, but saves more money” as officials didn’t need to worry about spending money on trips to Germany.

“Even [if someone] encouraged me to go, I would not go to Germany,” he said.

The missive to lawmakers also indicates that Germany indefinitely postponed the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia regarding “regular political consultation” in direct response to the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the subsequent forced dissolution of his party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The German and European Union embassies, the response shows, also requested permission to visit Sokha, but were still waiting for approval.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, said he did not know what the MoU entailed, or that its signing had been delayed. “I have no idea, my friend,” he said, directing further questions to the spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who could not be reached yesterday.

Another measure taken by the German Foreign Affairs Ministry, according to the response, was to cancel a visit by Interior Minister Sar Kheng that was scheduled for the end of November – shortly after the CNRP’s dissolution – and to postpone it indefinitely.

Mu Sochua, a self-exiled former deputy president of the CNRP, said in a message that “the cancellation of Sar Kheng’s visit is telling and significant of Germany’s stance for democracy and role among EU members that have pursue[d] sanctions and [are] speaking with one voice”.

After cancelling Kheng’s visit, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs received visits from oppositional representatives “on several occasions”. One of them was Sochua, who said she had met with the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asia Department in October. “I had just fled the country,” she said. “We discussed the release of [Kem Sokha], human rights conditions on assistance, [and] EU sanctions.”

Sochua said she was satisfied with the response by the German government, and added that Kem Monovithya, a CNRP official and Sokha’s daughter, and former lawmaker Yem Ponhearith had also visited the Foreign Affairs Ministry last month. “Germany [is] totally on the side of democracy,” she said.

The German government’s response to the parliamentary inquiry also indicates that the German government is currently revisiting funding for good governance programs in Cambodia.

The CPP’s Eysan said that although aid was up to Germany to give, not doing so would breach the Paris Peace Agreement. “In the Paris Agreement it agreed to help to develop and re-build Cambodia after the genocide. If it does not give, it will show the world that it breaks its promise.”

The agreement also enshrined the ideals of multi-party democracy and human rights, and is frequently invoked by the opposition. In a speech last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to the accord as a “ghost”.

While the Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached yesterday, it published an opinion paper titled Cambodia, Stability and Development First – To Tell The Truth on Tuesday, and a second version on Friday.

In this 11-page paper, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs argues that Cambodia required time, economic growth and stability to achieve “ideal democracy and human rights” that “took the West a few centuries to achieve”.

“Utopic democracy can wait!” they write, while calling on Western countries “to come to their senses” and not impose sanctions. “But if the West chose, regardless, to impose their sanctions, despite these hard truths that we have presented here, then let history be the judge of their actions.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, briefly addressed the situation in Cambodia in a speech on Friday on the occasion of Lunar New Year. While stressing good relations with the Southeast Asian region, he noted that Cambodia was a cause for concern. “We have expressed our attention for the democratic framework in Cambodia to be fully respected,” he said.

According to the German government’s response to the parliamentary questions, the European Council – a body comprised of EU members’ heads of state – will meet on February 26 and decide on potential actions to take regarding Cambodia.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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