Pushing the sanctions barrier, US action that borders on stupidity

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Hing Bun Hieng, the commander of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's bodyguard unit, speaks at the International Airport of Phnom Penh as he accompanies PM Hun Sen to Singapore for the 32nd ASEAN Summit, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Just when relations between the US and Cambodia seem to be on the mend with several US lawmakers visiting Cambodia and making positive comments on the progress made, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, mislead by American diplomats here, and probably goaded by recalcitrant politicians like Sam Rainsy, have slapped sanctions on General Hing Bun Heang.

Gen Bun Heang, the commander of the prime minister’s body guard unit has been targeted for the past two decades by elements within the US administration for his alleged involvement in atrocities that to this day have not been substantiated. It certainly defies logic on why the US, in the first place, found it prudent to impose financial sanctions on the general when nothing has been concretely proven in his alleged role in the 1997 grenade attack.

We would like to raise the question as to what is the role of the US Embassy in Cambodia. While it promotes people-to-people exchanges to build US-Cambodia relations, on the other hand it makes bizarre recommendations upon receiving ludicrous requests from US Congressman and senators. These lawmakers have probably got no clue as to what is happening here and rely solely on their “intelligence assessment”, no doubt provided by their embassy in Phnom Penh in its reports to the State Department.

Is there a hidden agenda in these financial sanctions against Gen Bun Heang? The timing cannot be sheer coincidence as Cambodia prepares for the July 29 general election where some 20 political parties have registered and voiced their commitment to participate. This also comes in the wake of the open call by His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni for all Cambodians who have registered for the polls to come out and exercise their rights.

The alleged actions by Gen Bun Heang dates back to more than two decades and several years on the second charge. That the incidents did happen cannot be denied. However, the evidence and proof has thus far not been produced by any party, including the FBI which said the evidence was inconclusive.

This is indeed puzzling as the United States seems to be sending mixed signals to Cambodia and also to the rest of the emerging democracies in the region.

Last month, US Senator Doug Ericksen, during a visit to Cambodia said that he would lead a delegation to observe the July 29 general election and that he was satisfied with the outcome of last year’s commune election. Nonetheless, we still have other US lawmakers, with no basis whatsoever, continuing to demonise Cambodia and insisting that the government is going against the Cambodian Constitution by not abiding with the rule of law.

By calling on the government to reinstate the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and allow its 118 banned members to participate in the July election, these US lawmakers are overstepping their boundaries and interfering in the internal affairs of the country. Cambodia adheres to the rule of law and the decision by the judiciary to ban CNRP cannot be reversed.

Also during this period, the intended visit of the high level delegation from the European Union to discuss the tariff-free entry of Cambodian products to the EU under the Everything but Arms agreement (EBA), is also in bad taste. It is meant to apply more pressure on Cambodia to bend its rules and regulations as well as go against its Constitution to suit European politicians pontificating from their own pedestals.

The pressures and looming sanctions by the US and the EU will not affect the political trajectory, economic development path, and, especially, the Cambodian way of democracy.

The Cambodian people will decide their future next month by turning out to vote for the political party that they believe in. The destiny of Cambodia is in the hands of Cambodians, not the US and the EU. Cambodia no longer tolerates foreign intervention, at any costs.

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