Sweden stops new aid

Cheang Sokha / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon meets a Chinese delegation. China has backed the move against the CNRP. Supplied

Sweden said yesterday it was stopping new aid for Cambodia, except in education and research, and would no longer support a reform programme after the CNRP was dissolved last week.

The announcement marked the first concrete action by a European Union country in protest at the crackdown on the opposition.

The United States has already cut election funding and said it would take more punitive steps after last week’s court ruling. The European Union has also threatened action.

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Sweden’s embassy in Phnom Penh said the country was reviewing its engagement with Cambodia.

“We will not initiate any new government-to-government development cooperation agreements, except in the areas of education and research,” it said in a statement.

Responding to the Swedish statement, Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said Cambodia welcomed friendship with Sweden or other countries, but they must understand the CNRP had been banned because the courts found it had committed treason.

“People should respect the Cambodian people’s decision in accordance with the principle of democracy and the rule of law,” he said.

Sweden, which has given Cambodia an estimated $20 million per year in aid in the past five years, ranked third among individual EU member states in Cambodia’s database of donors last year, after France and Germany.

Swedish fashion group H&M is also a key buyer from Cambodia’s garment factories.

China has continued to support the country’s implementation of the law, as has Russia. Japan has remained silent on the issue, but none of the three plans to withdraw aid for next year’s election.

Speaking at the daily press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that China had always supported Cambodia’s national security and stability.

“We have stressed many times that China, as Cambodia’s good neighbour, good friend, good partner and good brother, has supported Cambodia in following a development path that suits its national conditions and the Cambodian government’s efforts in safeguarding national security and stability,” Mr Shuang said on Friday.

A day earlier, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP after receiving a complaint from the Ministry of Interior in the wake of party leader Kem Sokha being jailed on treason charges.

Mr Sokha and the CNRP are accused of conspiring with the US to topple the government in a colour revolution, which the government has linked to deadly protests following the 2013 election.

The Supreme Court also banned 118 senior members of the opposition party from taking part in politics for five years.

In response, the White House issued a statement condemning the action, announcing the US would cut election funding and demanding the release of Mr Sokha, who is accused of colluding with the US to topple the government.

“The United States will take concrete steps to respond to the Cambodian government’s deeply regrettable actions. As a first step, we will terminate support for the Cambodian National Election Committee and its administration of the upcoming 2018 national election,” the statement said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that US and EU have warned of sanctions and cuts to election funding, but support from China, Japan and Russia would allow next year’s national election to run smoothly, freely and fairly.

Despite the strong actions taken by the US, Prime Minister Hun Sen has also reassured voters that the election will move forward unimpeded.

Chheang Vannarith, a Southeast Asia analyst based in Singapore and Cambodia, said the power plays being made by the US and China over the situation in Cambodia are akin to a diplomatic proxy war.

“The escalating diplomatic tensions between Cambodia and the US provide a window of opportunity for China to accelerate its political clout in the kingdom,” he said.

“Cambodia has less foreign policy options but to build closer ties with China to counterbalance the pressures from the US and its allies.”

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