A European delegation on a two-day visit to the Kingdom yesterday expressed concerns about recent political developments in Cambodia, saying that the deteriorating political and human rights situation could have consequences for development assistance and trade.
“In order to have free and fair general elections in July next year, the country needs [an] open and transparent level playing field,” a statement by delegation chair Werner Langen reads. “We call on the government to release opposition leader Kem Sokha, to stop the dissolution process of the main opposition party, and to restore the space for free action of political parties, media and civil society organizations.”
The six-member delegation met with several ministries, including the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as with civil society organisations, the National Election Committee and Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong over the last two days.
While ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun acknowledged that the delegates were “worried” about the possibility of the CNRP being dissolved, and about Sokha’s arrest, he told reporters after a meeting: “The important point is that the EU highlighted the good relationship between Cambodia and the EU.”
The delegates’ statement, however, stresses that the European Parliament has a say in budgets and in trade policy in the EU.
“A serious deterioration of the human rights situation might have implications for development assistance programmes and trade preferences,” Langen wrote.
After a meeting with the delegates yesterday, Vun dismissed concerns about the opposition party potentially being dissolved. “There is not only this one [opposition party], but there are more,” he said. “We want them to consider whether their group . . . is [from] a democratic country, having only two parties.” The delegates – from Germany, Italy, Belgium, Poland and Spain – are each from countries with more than two parties.
Vun added that Sokha’s arrest was justified because he had committed crimes following “foreigners’ policy . . . that caused social instability”.
According to a Foreign Affairs Ministry statement, the EU has pledged about $470 million to the election process from 2014 until 2018.
The ministry added that the European Union “expressed gratitude” for Foreign Minster Prak Sokhonn’s explanation regarding recent political developments, and an assistant to Namhong was quoted on government-aligned news outlet Fresh News as saying that “the European Parliament did not have any reactions” to explanations regarding Sokha’s arrest.
In an email on Monday, George Edgar, ambassador of the EU to Cambodia, said the delegates had raised concerns with Sokhonn.