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Aussie MP calls for sanctions

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Tax Department head Kong Vibol speaks at a meeting in Phnom Penh in 2016. An Australian MP wants sanctions imposed on several top brass of the Cambodian government. Heng Chivoan

Aussie MP calls for sanctions

A senior Cambodian bureaucrat has slammed as “ineffective, silly and ill-intentioned”, an Australian MP’s appeal on Tuesday to the Australian Federal Government to impose sanctions on a number of top officials.

This came after the Labour lawmaker, Julian Hill, appealed to the Australian federal government to slap a travel ban and freeze the assets of some top brass in Cambodian government.

On Monday, Hill told a parliamentary meeting in Canberra that it’s time for Australia to take action, following Cambodia’s allegedly “worsening political situation”.

He referred to a string of political events that have put the Kingdom under the spotlight, namely the “house arrest” of Kem Sokha, the former president of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Others were the allegedly “sham” general election that resulted in the establishment of a one-party National Assembly, and the imprisonment of filmmaker James Ricketson – who, Hill deemed, was convicted based on “fabricated charges”.

At the meeting, Hill named the Cambodian officials to be slapped with sanctions as Hun Manet, commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces; Hun To, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew; Dy Vichea, Hun Sen’s son-in-law; Kong Vibol, director-general of the Taxation Department; and Kim Santepheap, undersecretary of state at the Justice Ministry.

He claimed that the officials had frequently travelled to Australia, have considerable assets in the country, and therefore the sanctions would affect them significantly.

However, Secretary of state and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan called Hill’s appeal “silly, ineffective and ill-intentioned”.

“He’s just a [parliament] member who is not aware of the realities in Cambodia. It would be useless to entertain the appeal because it only comes from one person,” Siphan said, noting that Cambodia still has good relations with Australia.

Calling the appeal silly, Siphan said: “It’s just his ill intentions against the Cambodian government.”

Analyst Meas Nee said whether or not the MP’s appeal could be effective depends on the participation of others in the Australian parliament and the mechanism that followed.

“If there is only one MP who raises [the appeal] and no subsequent mechanism to follow up, such [an appeal] will be futile. It will be ineffective as the government has said.”

Earlier on Friday, Hill posted a letter on his Facebook page calling on the federal government – via the newly appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs Marisa Payne – to “formally call upon the Cambodian government to establish a commission of inquiry capable of undertaking an independent, impartial, effective and transparent investigation into analyst Kem Ley’s death”.

Meanwhile, Payne yesterday unveiled sanctions against five officers in Myanmar’s powerful military who are accused of overseeing violence against members of the Rohingya ethnic group.

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