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US to ramp up sanctions after ‘flawed’ national polls

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US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks at the Department of State last year in Washington, DC. Alex Wroblewski/AFP

US to ramp up sanctions after ‘flawed’ national polls

At a press conference on Wednesday, the US State Department announced that it would expand visa sanctions on the Cambodian officials and individuals it deems responsible for “undermining democracy” in Cambodia.

At the briefing, spokesperson Heather Nauert reiterated that the department regarded the July 29 elections as flawed and neither free nor fair.

“As previewed in the White House’s July 29 statement on Cambodia’s elections, we are expanding the visa restrictions initiated on December 6, 2017 on individuals involved in the undermining of democracy in Cambodia.

“The expanded entry restrictions may apply to individuals both within and outside the Cambodian government who are responsible for the most notable anti-democratic actions taken in the run-up to the flawed July 29 election. In certain circumstances, their immediate family members will also be subject to restrictions,” she said.

Nauert called on the government to promote national reconciliation, allow independent media and civil society to fulfil their roles, release Kem Sokha and other political prisoners and revoke the ban on his opposition party.

The State Department declined to give the exact number of individuals who would fall into this newly expanded category.

In June, the US Treasury Department froze the assets of Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit Commander Hing Bun Heang, claiming his involvement in an attack on CNRP lawmakers when three persons under his command were convicted.

In June, Human Rights Watch released a report on 12 generals it called the “dirty dozen”, alleging their involvement in human rights violations in Cambodia.

In July, Global Witness listed four tycoons in a report, claiming they had significant roles in undermining democracy and human rights abuses in the Kingdom.

In response to the US action, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan reiterated that Cambodia is a sovereign state and that the election was praised by many international observers. He pointed to the voter turnout of over 80 per cent as evidence of democracy in action.

‘Can’t sell sovereignty’

“We cannot sell Cambodian sovereignty. We cannot sell the will of the people who voted for Prime Minister Hun Sen. We cannot ignore Samdech Techo Hun Sen’s efforts.

“In the previous election, the puppet of the US did not accept the will of the people. Yet, Samdech [Hun Sen] established Cambodian democracy by forming a ‘culture of dialogue’, but it failed,” he said.

Siphan said he hasn’t seen any real impact of the US action, but if further restrictions were placed, it would affect the entire Asean community.

“After 1979, the US put sanctions on the survivors of the Khmer Rouge. So, we have enough experience and now we are brave and struggling to protect our national interest, independence and sovereignty.”

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