U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal has told a meeting of Cambodian-Americans that the U.S. government and international community is prepared to take further action against the Cambodian government if the deteriorating political situation does not improve.
He told the crowd at a gathering in Annandale, Virginia, that “real changes” needed to take place in order for relations to improve.
“And the United States can’t do that alone. I am going to ask for support, community support, activist support, NGO support, congress is going to be part of it and we have to begin to reach out to our friends throughout the world and to say we need to work together on this to ensure free and fair elections,” he said.
He added that the European Union and Japan, as large economies with strong ties to Cambodia and also major aid donors, could also help apply pressure to the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In order for the international community to restore full relations with Cambodia, he said the leader of the opposition, Kem Sokha, must be released. Sokha was jailed in September on treason charges widely seen as purely politically motivated. Lowenthal added that other steps must be taken by Phnom Penh, including stopping a crackdown on independent media, journalists and civil society.
Kem Monovithya, Sokha’s daughter, said she hoped that the E.U. would withdraw all election assistance to Cambodia ahead of the 2018 election, as the U.S. has already announced it will do.
In November, the U.S. expressed “grave concern” over the dissolution of Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party, calling the allegations against the party “meritless and politicized.”
On Thursday, Washington announced it was cutting $1.8 million in aid to the country’s national election body, a move Hun Sen claimed was intended to kill off Cambodian democracy.
Ren Hong, an attendee at the meeting in Virginia, said while he welcomed international pressure on Hun Sen’s government, he was concerned that any economic action taken by the major powers could affect poor Cambodian workers disproportionately.
Buth Buntenh, head of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, urged Cambodians living outside the country to continue to work with foreign governments to seek a solution to the crisis.