WASHINGTON DC— [Editor’s note: Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for Hun Sen to step down in the wake of recent violence against protesters and the summoning of opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha to answer charges of incitement during demonstrations. He spoke to VOA Khmer by phone to explain.]
Mr. Chairman, what is your response to the deadly crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s forces on the workers and also the court summons against opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha?
Hun Sen has brought Cambodia to the brink. No longer content to marginalize the opposition, the Cambodian People's Party is now killing peaceful protesters, and it has issued warrants for both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, both who have been forced into hiding because of the CPP’s crackdown. It is time for Hun Sen to end his three-decade grip on power. It’s time for Hun Sen to step down. The people of Cambodia deserve far better than Hun Sen.
How does the situation in Cambodia trouble you, Cambodians, or the US as a democratic country, especially over the election?
What concerned me about the election was the fact that a large part of that election was stolen. If you look at the widespread voter fraud, 10 percent of all Cambodians registered to vote had their names actually removed from the voter lists by the members of Hun Sen’s government. And if you live in an area not sympathetic to Hun Sen, there is the good chance you never got to cast a ballot to begin with. And if you were able to cast a ballot, it may have been in the face of quite a bit of intimidation, because we have talked to monitors who said individuals endured widespread voter intimidation in that election.
And we had one human rights advocate, a Cambodian, he had his ballot actually filled out for him by a Hun Sen party official, and he was told he could not vote. That was the message he received, and when he questioned that, they said “too bad.” So we have that information. We saw that ballot stuffing was rampant and as the result Hun Sen was able to once again cling to power by stealing this election. This is not the way forward for Cambodia.
Can you specify again, in a little bit of detail, why you are calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down?
Well, I think he should step down for several reasons. One is the land grabbing that’s gone on in Cambodia. Forty percent of the country, that is about 17 million acres, in land concessions have been taken, and this is about 30,000 Cambodian families that have been forcefully evicted from their homes over the last five years. Frankly, these are people who lived on that land, worked on that land for decades, and that land has now been turned over to others and leased to local or foreign companies as a land concession, 99-year land concessions. Well, all Cambodians who worked there, they were displaced, they were pushed off their lands. That is one issue.
Another issue to me is the fact that the election was stolen and those types of abuses, there is no place for it. That’s why Hun Sen should step down. And another point I would make is that you also have the situation with the use of unit 911 to suppress labor as elite military units were beating protesters with sticks and batons, and severely injuring many people. It’s unprecedented, and that is a disturbing new tactic by the authorities, by Hun Sen. So I think for all of these reasons, it’s time for Hun Sen to step down.
It’s not anymore about marginalizing the opposition, he’s now killing peaceful protesters. He issued warrants out for the opposition, and I think in that kind of the situation, it’s just time for international community to say to Hun Sen: “End your three-decade grip on power that you’ve held onto by cheating. Just step down because the people of Cambodia deserve far better.”
The US State Department condemned the deadly crackdown in Cambodia last weekend. In your opinion, do you think that’s enough, or should the US government do more?
Well, I have a call scheduled with Ambassador [William] Todd, and I have talked several times to Assistant Secretary [of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel] Russel. I am talking to him again tonight [Tuesday] about this issue. They have been meeting with all sides to get as much as information as possible, and I’d like to hear what they have to say first. But there are certainly actions that we can take, including restricting [Foreign Military Financing] monies, aid that the United States gives to the government of Cambodia.
I think unless the State Department can confirm that the government in Cambodia is going to cease its violence against peaceful protesters and against the opposition, then these are steps that certainly can be taken. And I think it’s very, very important right now that we see some action out of the government in Cambodia, and out of Hun Sen, that indicate a change an attitude.