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U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo Urged by House Members to Act for Cambodians

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the audience prior to an unveiling ceremony of a statue of former President Ronald Reagan on the top of United States embassy in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Five U.S. Congressmen want Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to urge the Cambodian government to “uphold Cambodia’s constructional commitment to principles of liberal multi-party democracy.”

In a letter sent Friday to the top American diplomat, the signatories expressed concern about the “unrest and violence that may ensue given Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repeated threats” against the exiled leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have announced their intention of returning to Cambodia on November 9.

“We are also deeply troubled by the politically-motivated arrests and detention of CNRP activists and supporters since August 16, when CNRP exiled leaders announced their plan to return to Cambodia,” the letter said.

The government of the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen has arrested at least 50 people affiliated with the opposition since August.

Hun Sen “has regrettably continued to oppress freedoms and human rights in Cambodia. We urge the State Department to raise these concerns” with him, said the letter, which was signed by Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida, ranking member of the subcommittee on Asian and the Pacific; Alan Lowenthal, a California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Cambodia Caucus with Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican; and California Democrat Brad Sherman, chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism.

They pointed out the “robust bipartisan support” in Congress for “democracy, human rights and press freedom in Cambodia.”

“At a time when democracies in the region are backsliding, the United States must redouble its support for democratic norms and freedom,” the letter said.

The U.S. has responded to Cambodia’s democratic backsliding by sanctioning senior officials of Hun Sen’s government and ending joint military exercises.

On October 28, Hun Sen advised his government to strengthen frayed relations with the United States. The two counties have seen bilateral relations severely frayed following the 2017 national election. The government has consistently accused the U.S. of aiding the opposition in an alleged color revolution.

Hun Sen’s announcement came soon after the arrival of a new U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy.