PHNOM PENH —
A group of U.S. Senators last week proposed a new bill that could see restrictions placed on Cambodian officials including asset freezes.
The bill, known as the Cambodia Accountability and Return on Investment (CARI) act, could see senior officials’ assets frozen if the leader of Cambodia’s main opposition group, Kem Sokha, remains in prison and free and fair elections are not held later this year.
"Democracy is dead in Cambodia today because the Cambodian government is under the influence and control of China," Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement after introducing the bill.
Sokha was arrested on charges of conspiring with the United States to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen and his party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was later ordered dissolved in a case where similar allegations were made.
Both the CNRP and the United States have denied the allegations.
Ted Cruz, a leading senator from Texas who also sponsored the bill, added that the CARI act was an “appropriate response” to "Hun Sen's protracted tyranny and unrelenting destruction of democracy in Cambodia."
In late January, eight influential senators, including Sen. Graham, Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Marco Rubio, wrote a letter to the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Hailey, urging her to work with US partners and allies of the United States government to “isolate the Cambodian government, pressure them to reverse course”.
"We also urge you to consider using the voice of the U.N. Security Council to raise concerns about the crackdown, given the central role the council played in crafting Cambodia’s political restoration in the early 1990s in the wake of civil war and Khmer Rouge era atrocities."
The CARI bill also authorizes “counter influence” programs to highlight China's role in the destruction of Cambodia during the 1970s, according to the press release.