Hun Sen’s US rift deepens

Washington has accused Cambodia of undermining democracy after it moved to expel a US NGO and launched a clampdown on several media groups. 

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the government was “deeply concerned” by the deteriorating the democratic climate in Cambodia.

Cambodia is increasingly rejecting US influence as China deepens its economic and military influence. In response to the US criticism, Phnom Penh released an open letter  saying: “Cambodians are well aware of what a democratic process means. You do not need to tell us what it is,” calling US-style democracy “bloody and brutal”.

“We wish to send a clear message again to the US embassy that we defend our national sovereignty,” the letter said.

Cambodia is due to hold a general election in July 2018

Cambodia’s veteran prime minister, Hun Sen, has launched a crackdown on some of the country’s longest-standing NGOs, including the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), which has been in Cambodia since 1992. The organisation was given a week to leave the country after the government accused it of failing to pay its taxes and register properly.

The NDI’s website called on Cambodia to reconsider its decision, saying it worked with all major parties in “strictly nonpartisan” way.

Hun Sen also recently accused the US of causing chaos in countries such as Iraq and Syria, adding that he would not allow something similar to happen in Cambodia. The US carpet-bombed Cambodia and created the conditions that enabled the murderous Khmer Rouge to take power in 1975.

The English-language Cambodia Daily, which has published since 1993, was given 30 days to pay a US$6.3-million tax bill or face closure and having its assets seized.

The Phnom Penh authorities said the newspaper had not paid taxes for years, while the paper said it was run as a non-profit organisation and the tax demand had not been properly explained.

A former Khmer Rouge cadre, Hun Sen fled Cambodia in 1977 and returned with the Vietnamese military during that country’s war against the savage regime in 1979. He was first appointed foreign minister and was named prime minister in the Vietnamese-supported government in 1985.

He called the tiny, independent newspaper a thief that owed the government money.

Hun Sen’s government has done little to address Cambodia’s woeful infrastructure. Picture credit: Wikimedia