Kong Korm, former top adviser to the dissolved CNRP, yesterday said the removal of Cambodia’s preferential tariff access under the Everything-but-arms trade scheme will not improve human rights conditions, but will economically hurt Cambodians.
Mr Korm on Monday sent a letter to George Edgar, European Union Ambassador to Cambodia, saying that the Kingdom’s political situation has improved because former opposition leader Kem Sokha has been released on bail under court supervision and the Law on Political Parties now includes a clause that paves the way for banned former CNRP officials to return to politics.
“After my political rights was restored, I as well as His Excellency [George Edgar] EU representative hopes that democracy and respect for human rights continues to improve,” Mr Korm said in in the letter.
In order to have political rights restored, the banned politicians must fill a request to Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Prime Minister Hun Sen. Only after following their approval would King Norodom Sihamoni grant them a Royal Pardon.
In January, Mr Korm and his son Kong Bora were granted royal pardons and had their bans lifted.
The ban, which was decided by the Supreme Court, saw 118 CNRP lawmakers and officials barred from politics. The court also jailed CNRP leader Kem Sokha on treason charges and dissolved the party in 2017.
Mr Korm is now Khmer Will Party’s honorary president.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr Korm accused exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy of destroying democracy and that Mr Rainsy’s action, calling for the revocation of the EBA, will ultimately hurt everyday Cambodians.
“I honestly told the EU that the decision to implement suspension or removal of Cambodia’s EBA serves the ambition of Sam Rainsy and his followers, and will affect innocent Cambodians,” Mr Korm said.
“I think to ensure genuine democracy and human rights, preferential status should remain intact in order to make Cambodia’s economy stronger as it strengthens democracy in the country,” he added.
The EU earlier this month started an 18 month review that could see the Kingdom’s EBA status revoked.
George Edgar, EU ambassador to Cambodia, said that he could not comment on Mr Korm’s letter because he has yet to see it.
However, Mr Edgar reiterated the EU’s goal was to support Cambodia.
“I would emphasise that the launching of a withdrawal process for EBA does not lead automatically to the suspension of preferences,” he said. “The EU’s goal remains to support Cambodia to take the necessary measures to address the concerns – in relation to the core international human rights and labour rights conventions – that have led to the launch of the process, and to maintain its access to EBA. Suspension of preferences remains a measure of last resort.”
Mr Edgar said that the EC’s decision was not politically motivated.
“I would also underline that the European Commission’s decision to launch the process is not politically motivated,” he added. “The European Union is not acting on behalf of any Cambodian political group or supporting one group against another. It is for the people of Cambodia to choose between alternative political parties and platforms.”
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed not to bow to international pressure and rallied his ruling CPP party to silence remnants of the former opposition party and prepare the Kingdom to stand tall once the EBA is gone.
In an audio recording, Mr Hun Sen instructed senior CPP officials not to trade the Kingdom’s sovereignty for the EBA.
“This is our outright decision which is our stance. We do not bow down our head for trade with foreigners. Even with or without the EBA, we will not die,” Mr Hun Sen said.
Mr Hun Sen’s rhetoric has also been echoed by other government officials.