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US Cutting Aid to Cambodia for Recent Democratic Setbacks

By Steve Herman February 27, 2018

The White House announced Tuesday the U.S. is cutting about $8.3 million worth of aid to Cambodia because of "recent setbacks to democracy" in the southeast Asian country.

Sunday's senate election in Cambodia "failed to represent the genuine will of the Cambodian people. That gave us great cause for concern," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in response to a VOA News question at Tuesday's daily briefing.

The reductions include military and civilian aid. The United States will continue to support health, agricultural, mine clearance and other programs "in support of the Cambodian people," according to the White House.

There has been no immediate reaction from Cambodia's government.

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn hung up on a reporter and did not answer subsequent calls, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

"I have no comment on that yet. I have to consult my superior on our common position on that," Chum Bunrong, Cambodian ambassador to the U.S., told VOA's Khmer language service.

The ambassador, however, rejected one of the reasons used by the U.S. government to make the announcement – Sunday's sweep by the ruling party in elections for Cambodia's senate.

"The election went smoothly. Some said the election was dominated by one strong party, while others are weaker, but it was a democratic election based on our law. If the election was illegitimate, the people would protest against it," said the ambassador.

Three months ago, the country's supreme court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). That disenfranchised thousands of Hun Sen's political opponents, while forcing others into exile.

Self-exiled former CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said in a statement, "We are encouraged to see the international community making joint efforts to give the government a chance to get back on the track of genuine democracy."

Alan Lowenthal, co-chair of the U.S. Congressional Cambodia Caucus Congress, said, "short of a complete repudiation of his current position and a reinstatement of the CNRP, Hun Sen is solely responsible for any U.S. and international sanctions placed on Cambodia."

The California Democrat told VOA the senate election in Cambodia was illegitimate because "the major opposition party members were threatened, banned, jailed and, in some cases, run out of the country. Hun Sen has no intention of holding a fair election because he knows the majority of the Cambodian people do not support him or his regime."

U.S. and international support and cooperation for Cambodia "must be dependent on Hun Sen following the agreements he signed providing for free and fair elections, " added Lowenthal.

Congressman Steve Chabot, a Republican from Ohio, praised the White House's move as a sign the U.S. is taking the deteriorating political situation in Cambodia seriously.

"For months, my colleagues and I have been calling for serious action to be taken in response to Hun Sen's warrantless efforts to suppress his democratic opposition. It is heartening to see U.S. leadership taking an important role in support of democracy and rule of law in Cambodia," he said.

Human Rights Watch last month said the Cambodian government's broad political crackdown in 2017 "effectively extinguished" the country's emerging democracy.

The report said government authorities also abused the judicial system to prosecute political opponents and human rights activists and forced the closure of several independent media outlets, including radio stations that broadcast programming from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

VOA's Sok Khemara and Kimseng Men contributed to this report.

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