Sweden on Tuesday said it was stopping all new aid to Cambodia except that which was spent on education and research in the first concrete action by a European Union state since the opposition was banned in a court ruling last week.
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the main opposition party and sole challenger to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s longtime rule, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, would be dissolved and more than 100 of its officials banned from politics for five years.
The CNRP president, Kem Sokha, has been arrested and civil rights groups and independent media have been targeted as part of a wider government crackdown ahead of next year’s general election.
The United States has cut election funding and said it may take more steps against Phnom Penh, while the European Union has also said it may take collective action.
In a statement, the Swedish Embassy in Phnom Penh said it would only supply further aid that was specifically geared towards promoting human rights and democracy.
“In light of these adverse political developments, the Swedish government is currently reviewing the forms of our engagement in Cambodia. We confirm the clear focus of our development cooperation on support to human rights and democracy, which has already been strengthened during 2017, through increased support to defenders of democracy and human rights,” it said.
“Sweden has moreover decided that we will not initiate any new government-to-government development cooperation agreements, except in the areas of education and research. It will therefore not be possible to continue our support to the decentralization reform in its current form.”
The decentralization reforms involve strengthening local government institutions, which following the CNRP’s strong showing in local elections last year, were to be 40 percent controlled by the opposition. But the ruling last week means the seats won by the opposition will be gifted to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party without new elections.
Responding to the Swedish statement, Gen. Khieu Sopheak, interior spokesman, said the government regretted the decision, adding that the government would seek other donors to support its decentralization project.
“Although there is such a cut, Cambodia will continue to walk and try to finish all planned projects,” he said.
Sweden gave Cambodia about $100 million in aid over the past five years, the third-largest donor among E.U. member states after France and Germany.