Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s statement about upcoming European sanctions on Cambodia have sparked controversy between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and French government officials.
During a November 23 session at the French Senate, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Secretary of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, told Senator André Gattolin the situation in Cambodia was a matter of serious concern.
“It is normal for France to be eager to focus on this issue,” Mr Lemoyne said, referring to France’s status as a supporter of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and the host of the conference.
“Within the framework of Europe, the regime of preferential tax rates granted to Cambodia has to go hand in hand with respect for fundamental rights,” he said.
Mr Lemoyne added that the dissolution of the opposition party, the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha, and the absence of serious opposition as the general election looms was deeply concerning.
Mr Rainsy took to social media on November 27, and posted that Mr Lemoyne’s statement showed France was not opposed to putting sanctions on the Hun Sen regime.
“The Cambodian people have two alternatives: keep Hun Sen, have no freedom and no jobs, or get rid of Hun Sen, and have freedom and jobs in abundance,” Mr Rainsy wrote on his Facebook page.
“We must not allow Hun Sen to hold the Cambodian people hostage, meaning to make other people suffer because of him. He must stop blackmailing the donor community and step down for the sake of the Cambodian people. The whole nation is more important than one man,” he wrote.
It was learned that the issue of sanctions was never discussed as claimed by Mr. Rainsy.
“Mr. Rainsy has deliberately posted misleading information on his Facebook and the French officials had already clarified this with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Prak Sokhonn during a recent meeting in Myanmar,” an official familiar with the meeting and claims said, adding that it was a figment of his (Sam Rainsy) imagination.
CPP spokesman Suos Yara said that sanctions would be unfair, because European and American citizens take advantage of the low costs of clothing and footwear made in Cambodia.
“They need to wear cheap clothes and shoes to save money on their daily consumption,” Mr Yara said.
Mr Yara said the government merely wants to guarantee the stability and well-being of its people, and sanctions would hurt not only the welfare of Cambodian people but that of Europeans and Americans as well by disrupting the market.
“They are the ones who are inhumane. They are the ones putting their own people in trouble,” he said.
“Politicians now have to balance this out, because we are not the ones selling nuclear technology for profit. We are not the ones making cocaine and distributing it. We are not the ones making weapons that arm terrorists. We are the exception that does not add any threats to the world or region.”
Mr Yara also indirectly referenced Mr Rainsy’s involvement in the current crisis, saying that “in other countries where the opposition was banned in a lawful manner, opposition members didn’t travel the world asking foreigners to put sanctions on their own country. This is naturally wrong”.
“You can protest anything under the rule of law of your state, but you cannot defame your country. You can defame yourself, but you cannot defame your own country,” he added
Yesterday, several union representatives sent two petitions to the American and European Union ambassador to Cambodia expressing concern over possible sanctions, especially on the garment, textile and footwear industries.
The Cambodian Council of Ministers also released a video yesterday titled “Cutting foreign aid is the biggest achievement of the former opposition parties”.
The video said that “when any economic sanctions come upon Cambodia, it will be a great success of opposition leaders campaigning abroad”.