Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US slammed over BGU head as Foreign Ministry says sanctions violate international principles

US slammed over BGU head as Foreign Ministry says sanctions violate international principles

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Sam Rainsy, then-president of the Khmer Nation Party, is carried away in a state of shock after a grenade attack outside the National Assembly building on March 30, 1997. The attack left at least 16 people dead and 119 injured. philippe cottin/afp

US slammed over BGU head as Foreign Ministry says sanctions violate international principles

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC) has condemned the US Department of Treasury for its sanctions, announced on Tuesday, against Cambodian General Hing Bun Heang for his alleged role in infringing human rights.

In a statement, the ministry said it is disturbing that a public figure such as he, faces such punitive measures based on “groundless accounts and accusations that are in total disregard to the legal and judicial independence of Cambodia”.

“This is a flagrant violation of international principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states,” the MFAIC said.

It also dismissed “the purported engagement of Cambodian armed forces in a series of serious violent abuses and crimes against its people”.

On the contrary, the MFAIC said, it is a general understanding that Bun Heang and the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit have contributed significantly to the maintenance of peace, stability and social order especially in the defence of independence and territorial integrity from foreign invasion.

“The most glaring irony of justice is the fact that the former US administration spearheaded a coalition that supported the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled the country with complete contempt for human rights and democracy, to occupy the Cambodian seat at the UN, and to engender unjust 12-year sanctions against a nation devastated by more than two million tonnes of US bombs.”

The MFAIC also said it construes the US action as part of a series of coordinated attacks targeting the Cambodian government’s image in the run-up to the July 29 national elections.

“We note with a question mark that the US government has never publicly reprimanded certain opposition elements in Cambodia, which conduct their political activities by ways of insult, racism, xenophobia, social hatred and defamation, all of which are massively condemned in any democratic country,” it said.

‘Violating sovereignty’

The MFAIC statement comes a day after the US said it would deny Bun Heang a visa and freeze all assets he has in the US.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet also condemned the US action and said it considered the decision as groundless and an act of aggression against the Kingdom’s sovereignty.

Its statement said: “What America just did was a violation of the sovereignty of an independent nation, which does not function under US laws.

“In addition, we should question the US because the US military came to kill millions of Cambodians in the 1970s and remnants of those bombs are still being discovered today. Is this not a violation of human rights by the US?”

However, in justifying its action, the US claimed that pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which targets perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse and corruption, Bun Heang commanded a Cambodian unit that engaged in a series of human rights abuses.

It claimed he was personally implicated in attacks against a number of individuals, including a US citizen, and therefore would deny him any US visa and freeze all assets he has in the US.

The Cambodian Ministry of National Defence, meanwhile, expressed “regret” at the action.

“The Ministry of National Defence of the Kingdom of Cambodia greatly regrets, rejects and condemns the overly aggressive action of the US Treasury Department, which decided to freeze assets of this senior officer of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces,” the statement begins.

“The decision to freeze assets on such a high-ranking Cambodian official is a violation of Cambodian laws, a sovereign state, is very unfair and a decision made with no evidence,” it continued.

However, Bun Heang himself was unaffected by the news. Speaking to The Post, he said, “I am very happy and most satisfied. I’m thankful at the decision by the US to sanction me.

‘Thank you’

“First of all, I never have money to put in a bank. Secondly, I have no assets, and I always follow the policies of [Hun Sen], by contributing to the building of schools, high schools, pagodas, canals and roads for the people . . . Thank you for punishing me,” he said.

On October 26, 2015, members of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were dragged from their cars and brutally beaten by Bun Heang’s men.

In 1997, Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit was implicated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in an alleged assassination attempt on Sam Rainsy at a political rally in Phnom Penh, in which 16 to 20 people were killed, including two 13-year-old children, a journalist and several female garment workers.

Among the hundreds wounded in the incident was an American named Ron Abney, which prompted US involvement in the investigation.

Punishment ‘too light’

A statement by the CNRP, issued on Tuesday, said the signatories fully supported the US actions against Bun Heang. However, it said that the punishment was too light.

Hang Vitou, who heads the Youth Analyst Group, said freezing assets of senior officials of the Defence Ministry is just a first step for the US.

“The US will keep putting pressure and taking actions in response [to government officials] before next month’s national elections. When the US starts, other countries in Europe will begin to similarly pressure the government,” he said.

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