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Hun Sen: Sanctions Would "Impact US-Cambodia Ties"

Prime Minister Hun Sen, the ruling party's chairman, presides over the ceremony to mark 68th birthday of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich Island, Cambodia, June 28, 2019. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Lawmakers hope the Senate would pass and send the bill to President Donald Trump to sign later this year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said the pending Cambodia Democracy Act would impact his country’s relationship with the United States, should it pass.

Speaking during a visit at the construction site of his title-bearing Morodok Techo National Stadium in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said that if the U.S. sanctions as stated in the bill are enforced against “Defense Minister Tea Banh, it is the equivalent of cutting defense ties [with Cambodia]. Sanctions against Sar Kheng equals cutting police cooperation [with Cambodia]. Sanctions against Prak Sokhonn equals cutting diplomatic (bilateral) ties [with Cambodia].”

The U.S. House of Representatives in mid-July unanimously voted to pass the bipartisan Cambodia Democracy Act or H.R. 526 in order to encourage free and fair elections, the respect for human rights and political rights as well as to impose economic sanction and restrict visas for Hun Sen’s senior officials for their undermining democracy and violating human rights in Cambodia.

“If the bill is passed, first, it will affect each official’s image when they travel as they are put on a blacklist. And as I know, when the U.S. sanctions them, other countries will follow,” said Meas Nee, a social and political analyst.

The bill is now in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lawmakers hope the Senate would pass and send it to President Donald Trump to sign later this year.

In his two hour-speech during his tour of the construction site, Hun Sen also questioned the U.S. intention over a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, alleging that Cambodia had secretly signed an agreement with China to allow Chinese armed forces to use parts of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base.

“Do you have the same purpose as in the 1970s by accusing us like this? Cambodia and China have no reason to sign the secret contract?” asked the Cambodian prime minister, referencing a 1970 coup that overthrew then-prince, Norodom Sihanouk. Hun Sen described the coup leader Lon Nol and his subsequent regime as US-backed.

Lao Mong Hay, a political analyst said that the Cambodian premier has gained nothing from making those statements.

“He is just trying to deny the report and make his claim again that there is no Chinese military on Cambodia’s coast,” he said.

Bradley Murg, director of Global Development Studies at Seattle Pacific University told VOA Khmer by email on Monday that Hun Sen's statement was to highlight the history of American interventionism in other states and concerns about potential American intervention in Cambodia.

But Murg said those concerns are not what the U.S. is trying to create.

“Rather, American policy as expressed through the American Department of State has, in my view, genuinely sought and continues to seek improved relations with Cambodia rather than heightened conflict or tension.”

Emily Zeeberg, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment further on the issue.