CAMBODIAN opposition leader Mu Sochua has called on Western donors to impose targeted sanctions on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government after she was forced to flee the Southeast Asian nation in fear of arrest.
In a bid to save democracy in the increasingly authoritarian nation, Mu Sochua said the time for talk was over.
“The time for statements has passed. It’s time for sanctions, targeted sanctions. Also, suspension of technical aid to the government of Cambodia,” she told Reuters. “Time is up for democracy. How long can the international community wait?”
As vice president of opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Mu Sochua was forced to leave Cambodia on Tuesday, saying she had been tipped off that she was among the next targets of a crackdown in which opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested a month ago and charged with treason.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is clamping down on its political opponents ahead of a general election slated for next year. In June local elections, the CNRP won around 46 of the popular vote, compared to the CPP’s 51 percent.
In a bid to silence criticism and curb discord, Hun Sen’s government has also targeted civil society and media organisations in a bid to retain power.
In September, it shuttered the local office of US-based National Democratic Institute and forced the Cambodia Daily newspaper to close through issuing a US$6.3 million tax bill.
Speaking to Reuters in Southeast Asia – having requested the location not be specified because of security concerns – Mu Sochua said that last week around half the CNRP’s members of parliament had fled Cambodia.
The sanctions could include visa restrictions on top officials, Mu Sochua said, but should not target the exports of garments – mostly to the United States and European Union – on which the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian workers depend.
Responding to Mu Sochua’s comments, government spokesman Phay Siphan said there was no reason for any country to impose sanctions on Cambodia because it was committed to peace and pluralism and the rule of law.
“This is a sovereign state and it will protect its sovereignty,” he said.
The government has repeatedly threatened opposition members with arrest, claiming they are planning a revolution to oust Hun Sen who has ruled Cambodia for over three decades.
Additional reporting by Reuters