US Lawmakers Call for End to ‘Persecution’ of Opposition

Sixteen U.S. lawmakers have written to Prime Minister Hun Sen to add their voices to a multitude of recent appeals for the restoration of a democratic environment in Cambodia and for the rescinding of the arrest warrant issued for opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Bearing the signatures of U.S. House of Representatives members from across the Democrat-Republican divide, the letter, which is dated Thursday, expresses to Mr. Hun Sen “deep concerns about efforts to disrupt the development of democracy in your country.”

It notes Mr. Rainsy’s removal from the National Assembly in November as well as the brutal October 26 beating of two CNRP lawmakers outside the Assembly compound, calling on the prime minister to “cease the harassment and persecution of Cambodia’s opposition.”

“The people of Cambodia deserve to have their voices heard in a society that welcomes open debate and respects democratic values,” said the letter signed by Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representative’s committee on foreign affairs, among others.

“We call on you to immediately cease the harassment and persecution of Cambodia’s opposition, revoke Mr. Rainsy’s arrest warrant and reinstate him to the National Assembly, renounce all forms of political violence, and foster an environment where democracy can thrive and flourish,” the letter added.

In the past month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the arrest warrant for Mr. Rainsy as a “worrisome development,” while members of the European Parliament threatened aid cuts while passing a resolution calling for the opposition leader’s free return.

The U.S. State Department has also said recent political events here “recall a more authoritarian period in Cambodia’s recent past,” while the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia said the country could soon reach a “dangerous tipping point.”

Yet Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said on Sunday that he was unconcerned by the demands from abroad—or even the threats of European Parliament members to review hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to Cambodia if their resolution went ignored.

“The E.U. parliamentarians and the U.S. parliamentarians have their rights [but] I see and believe that our country under the leadership of Hun Sen is advancing to build our country to grow in all sectors,” he told reporters at a charity event in Phnom Penh.

“With funds or without funds, we will continue to advance,” the minister added. “From now and onward, Cambodia will always progress forward and not go backward or stand still. It always goes forward from one month to another and from one year to another.”

Mr. Namhong reiterated that Mr. Rainsy’s arrest warrant, which stems from a 2011 court decision sentencing Mr. Rainsy to two years jail for defaming the foreign minister, was a matter of law and not politics.

“We need to process things in compliance with our Constitution and national law and the rule of law,” he said.

Speaking at a meeting with CNRP lawmakers in the morning, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha said that the CPP government should be more willing to review the criticism coming from foreign sources, rather than ignoring it outright.

“As we know, the countries who uphold democracy, and especially their lawmakers, have the right, when the world has issues they are unhappy with, to have their say,” Mr. Sokha said of the letter from U.S. representatives.

“We are the owners of this country, and therefore we need to check whether they say reasonable things or not, and we should not just deny it all,” he added.

On his Facebook page on Saturday, Mr. Rainsy also said that the recent political events, including the arrest warrant that sent him into self-imposed exile in Europe, risked bringing Cambodia “to the brink of a one-party rule, as in the days of the Cold War.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the latest letter from the 16 U.S. congressmen and women represented only a minority of voices from the 435-member House of Representatives and noted Mr. Rainsy made the choice not to return to Cambodia and face his arrest.

“No one eliminated him. He eliminated himself,” Mr. Eysan said. “It’s not single-party, because we implement a pluralist, multi-party democracy.”

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