Cambodia’s former opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of plotting a “massacre” after a leaked audio recording apparently showed the long-ruling former Khmer Rouge commander saying the opposition would be “destroyed” if the European Union removed the country from a preferential trade scheme.
Hun Sen has also instructed police to arrest Rainsy if he follows through on a pledge to return to Cambodia this year. Rainsy is wanted on treason charges for allegedly conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen. Sokha lives under house arrest as his trial progresses, but thus far no evidence has been publicized that supports the government’s claim.
International pressure has been mounting on Hun Sen following a widespread crackdown on the opposition, civil society and the media. Last week, the European Union announced it had launched a formal procedure that would see Cambodia withdrawn from its Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme if Hun Sen does not introduce reforms. The United States is also considering similar sanctions.
But Hun Sen and other senior Cambodian People’s Party officials have doubled down on threats made prior to the July 2018 election that the opposition would be “destroyed” or “killed” if sanctions were implemented.
Writing on his Facebook page this week, Rainsy said Hun Sen was not fulfilling his duty to ensure the safety of Cambodians.
“Cambodia’s government endangers them and so forfeits its legitimacy. The United Nations and the international community must act to defend the millions of Cambodians who are in danger at the hands of this dictatorship,” he wrote.
The government has yet to respond to the comments.
Hun Sen has said that Cambodia will be able to weather the withdrawal of trade benefits, making use of the 18-month grace period to implement economic reforms.
But Mu Sochua, vice president of the CNRP, told VOA Khmer last week that Cambodia would struggle without the tariff-free treatment, a view supported by the industry.
The EU is Cambodia’s biggest export market with about $5.5 billion worth of goods imported into EU countries each year. Under the trading scheme, Cambodia avoids paying about $700 million in taxes.