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News Analysis: Defiance can last for how long?

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European Commission member Karmenu Vella speaks at a session of the EU Parliament where a resolution calling for sanctions on Cambodia passed last year. Photo supplied

News Analysis: Defiance can last for how long?

The Cambodian government has so far stood strong in the face of mounting international pressure over its treatment of critics, but analysts, diplomats and ruling party officials now wonder how long the defiance can last.

The European Union has led the firestorm of criticism, threatening to impose sanctions on the Hun Sen government if the EU’s suggested political roadmap is ignored.

If approved, the sanctions would cut aid and suspend the tariff-free system, known as Everything But Arms (EBA), to the EU, which is the largest market for Cambodian goods.

The EU’s demands, in the view of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), are steep. Democracy in the Kingdom has made “significant steps backwards,” said Federica Mogherini, vice-president of the European Commission, during a debate in Parliament.

Mogherini continued: “We request to have renegotiations between the government and the opposition. We ask the Cambodian government to drop all charges against opposition party officials and NGO activists. We want to see that the 118 opposition party’s officials have political rights.”

She also urged the government to hand over elected commune positions to the members of the now-dissolved opposition party, and allow exiled opposition party’s officials and activists to return to Cambodia.

Mogherini also cited the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which called for the implementation of a multi-party democracy system.

“The European Union has helped Cambodia in many areas for many years. We want to continue to help Cambodia more. But the Cambodian government must stop the oppression of its citizens, “ she said.

Her speech then returned to sanctions: “Respect for human right is a necessary condition for us to abolish taxes on goods manufactured in Cambodia,” Mogherini said.

Sok Eysan, the CPP spokesman, told the Post on Thursday that the EU’s threat of sanctions was not only unfeasible but impossible.

He said that recent diplomatic overtures by Western nations were evidence that they supported the Cambodian government that was installed after it won national elections in July.

“Now France supports the current government, Germany supports the current government, so the question is that whether EU will be able to or not.

“If France and Germany do not agree, what will the other 26 countries have to say about it?” Eysan asked, adding that “the EU Parliament’s provisional decision has no legal effect to force Cambodia to comply with its decisions.”

Eysan said that even the major global powers were behind Cambodia.

“All five superpower nations in the UN Security Council support [the Cambodian government]. They’re not supporting Sam Rainsy,” he said, referring to the former opposition leader. “So, imposing sanctions is impossible because the EU decision won’t have consensus or support.”

But political analyst, Meas Nee does not consider the recent letters from Germany and France to Prime Minister Hun Sen as signals of support.

“In the original documents [the letter sent to Hun Sen] in French and from Germany, we saw the meaning of the last words related to the current political situation, but when the CPP spokesman cited them, he chose only the positive points,” Meas claimed.

Instead, he pointed to Cambodia’s biggest benefactor – China.

“If China does not face any challenges, Beijing will be able to assist Hun Sen’s government. But if China faces a global crisis, its influence in Cambodia can be weakened,” he said.

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