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U.S. Calls for Release of Political Activists Held in Cambodia

FILE - President of the ruling Cambodian People's Party and Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony to mark the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the party in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 28, 2019.

The United States expressed concern on Wednesday over the detention of political activists in Cambodia and called on the government to lift restrictions on the opposition.

Cambodian authorities said Monday they had arrested six activists over the weekend for alleged plots to rally in support of former opposition politician Sam Rainsy if he returns from exile as planned in November.The latest arrests bring to 26 the number of activists linked to the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have been detained this year.

“The United States is concerned about Cambodian government’s continued political repression of former Cambodia National Rescue Party members, including the recent arrests of several former CNRP activists,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Twitter.

She called for the release of all those who she said had been arbitrarily detained and for the removal of undue restrictions on opposition members, including CNRP leader, Kem Sokha.

Sokha has been detained for two years, the past year under house arrest, while awaiting trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Critics have called Cambodia essentially a one-party state since the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in late 2017, months before elections last year in which longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party won all of the seats in parliament.

The United States has been concerned about growing Chinese influence in Cambodia at a time when it is trying to rally Southeast Asia countries to stand up to Beijing, Washington’s main strategic rival in Asia.