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Cambodia PM Dismisses EU Sanctions Threat, Says Brexit Will Limit Impact

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech during a groundbreaking ceremony to build the country's first expressway, in Kampong Speu province, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, March 22, 2019.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday dismissed a threat from the European Union (EU) to halt special trade privileges with the Southeast Asian country over human rights, saying Britain’s exit from the bloc will ease the pain of sanctions.

The EU has threaten to suspend the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme with Cambodia after a European Commission report found that Hun Sen’s government has cracked down on the opposition, civil society groups and the media.

It has given Cambodia a Dec. 12 deadline to respond to the allegations.

“I don’t care, if (they) want to do whatever, do it,” Hun Sen said in a speech at a university graduation ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian leader who has been in power for more than 34 years said he believes Britain’s exit from the EU will ease sanction pressure on Cambodia because Britain will continue to buy goods from Cambodia despite the EU’s decision on the matter.

“We are watching Brexit because of total exports to the European Union, we export the most to England,” Hun Sen said.

“After the exit, England’s economy will still be good and will be able to place even more orders from Cambodia,” he said.

The European Union accounts for nearly half of Cambodia’s exports, with Germany being the largest export market for Cambodia, taking roughly 11 percent of its goods, while Britain is the second largest, buying over 8 percent of goods from the Southeast Asian country, official data shows.

Western countries have condemned the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was arrested in 2017 before his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned ahead of an election last year.

Kem Sokha was freed from house arrest last month but a ban on his political activity was kept in place. His trial will begin on Jan. 15.