The United States has called on the government to reverse steps that “backtracked on democracy” before the general election next year, a visiting US official said yesterday.
Relations between Cambodia and the US have hit their lowest point in years after the arrest of opposition CNRP leader Kem Sokha and the dissolution of his party.
Mr Hun Sen accused Mr Sokha and the CNRP of a US-backed plot to overthrow the government through a colour revolution, allegations denied by the opposition.
“We are advising that these steps that have taken place here that have backtracked on democracy could be reversed,” said Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, the most senior US official to visit the kingdom since the CNRP was dissolved.
Mr Murphy told reporters in Phnom Penh that Cambodia still had time before the general election in July to “conduct an electoral process that is legitimate”.
On Tuesday, the European Union followed a US lead in suspending funding for the election.
“We want a good relationship,” Mr Murphy said.
“There is a little bit of friction, a little bit of noise in the official bilateral relationship, but we remain optimistic.
“When we said that we are concerned, we also said that we would be required to take measures if there is further backtracking on democracy,” Mr Murphy added.
“As a result, we’ve taken a few measures; we have curtailed our assistance to the NEC among other actions and we are not going to support the electoral process.”
During his visit, Mr Murphy met senior officials but no government ministers. He also met civil society groups.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the foreign ministry, who met Mr Murphy on Tuesday, told reporters their talks had been about improving their relationship. He also defended the government’s actions.
“What we’ve done is in the legal framework to defend Cambodia’s independence, peace and stability. We didn’t do anything illegal,” he said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the country is moving closer to democracy by implementing the rule of law.
“We are walking on the right path,” he said. “The government took legal action to arrest a traitor.
“Democracy is not moving backwards like the US claims.”