The US Embassy has called on the government to immediately release opposition leader Kem Sokha, claiming allegations the United States were helping him push for regime change were made without a shred of serious or credible evidence.
Mr Sokha was last week charged with treason over comments made in 2013 video footage from Australia-based CBN news, which showed him saying the US government had been helping him to push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
Speaking at a press conference on the matter, Ambassador William Heidt said the US joined the European Union in calling for Mr Sokha’s release, adding that pressure on civil society must also cease.
“To be honest, I wasn’t totally surprised when I learned this unfortunate news. But I was surprised by the allegations against the United States in connection with Mr Sokha’s arrest, made without a shared of serious or credible evidence, ” he said.
He described the allegations as extraordinary, saying the US had been subject to dozens of intentionally inaccurate, misleading and baseless accusations in Cambodia over the past year.
“This has been very painful for me personally. I think you know that I have a special connection to Cambodia, and I came here two years ago with clear instructions to seek to improve our relationship,” he said.
“Indeed, I and my staff have to sought, over and over again, to treat everyone with respect, to keep our public statements minimal and fair, and to look for ways to cooperate and build bridges between our two great peoples.”
He added that since the embassy reopened in 1994, it had been a powerful supporter of Cambodia’s economic development, citing how it helped the country create a labour framework that attracted the biggest names in the global garment business, including dozens of American firms.
“The events of the past month aren’t hurting the United States, they are hurting Cambodia,” he said.
They are, step-by-step, isolating Cambodia from the international community at the very moment Cambodia needs international support to raise its economy to the next level and compete with its neighbours.”
Mr Heidt described the June commune elections as Cambodia’s freest and fairest since 1993.
“The Cambodian people were rightfully proud, and the United States rightfully congratulated the government and the Cambodian people,” he said.
“Now fast forward three months. The truth is, if Cambodia’s national election were held today, no credible international observer would certify them a free, fair, and reflecting the will of the Cambodian people. I hope everyone will think carefully about this point,” he claimed, without elaborating on the basis for his comments.
Mr Heidt meanwhile called for the normal functioning of media to resume in the country.
“Perhaps most importantly, the government, opposition, and civil society should begin a dialogue about the future of Cambodia’s democracy in an open, respectful and pressure-free environment,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last week called on foreign countries not to interfere in Cambodian affairs, alleging the US was helping the opposition CNRP invoke regime change in Cambodia.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the ambassador was free to make statements on the political situation, but urged him to confirm whether the US was aiding Mr Sokha in an attempt to topple the government. “If yes, say yes, if no, say no,” he said.
One prominent political analyst said the video footage of Mr Sokha was not sufficient evidence to implicate the US, as the government claimed.
“What the government did is a strategy to make the Chinese happy and attract more funding,” he said.