May 11, 2018 / 6:16 AM / 5 months ago

Cambodia condemns move by U.S. Congressman to impose sanctions

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia on Friday condemned a proposal by a U.S. Congressman to impose financial sanctions on long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and his officials, saying the bid destroyed the credibility of the United States.

FILE PHOTO - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the inauguration ceremony of National Road No. 1, which has been built with aid from Japan, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Ted Yoho, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said on Thursday a “Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018” aimed to impose financial sanctions, in addition to visa restrictions that Washington placed last year, on Cambodian officials for “undermining democracy” with a crackdown on critics ahead of a July general election.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the proposal “offended” Cambodia and was “bad” U.S. foreign policy.

“He drafted the bill in his office from the other side of the world ... it destroys America’s credibility,” the spokesman, Phay Siphan, told Reuters.

Relations between Cambodia and the United States have been strained recently over U.S. criticism of the government crackdown on dissent, and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s anger over what he says have been U.S. efforts to undermine his rule.

The United States has denied interfering in Cambodian politics.

In December, the United States said it would restrict entry to people involved in Cambodian action to undermine democracy, including the dissolution of the main opposition party and imprisonment of its leader.

The visa sanctions were the toughest steps by any Western country since Hun Sen launched the crackdown on critics.

The European Union (EU) and the United States have not removed preferential trade access for Cambodia’s vital garments sector, despite calls from rights groups for targeted sanctions.

Both the EU and the United States have withdrawn funding for the July election, when Hun Sen hopes to extend his more than three decades in power.

Republican Representative Yoho said in a statement the Cambodian people were “starving for democracy”.

He said the act would “push back against the Hun Sen’s regime’s undermining of democracy ... by applying financial sanctions to the figures who carry out this despicable agenda”.

Chinese support for big ticket projects has allowed Hun Sen to brush off Western criticism of his crackdown.

China vastly outspends the United States in a country once destroyed by Cold War superpower rivalry, and its money goes on highly visible infrastructure projects and with no demands for political reform.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Robert Birsel

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