By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned the European Union not to “scare” him by threatening to withhold aid, even though the current package will not expire until 2020.
Last week, EU parliamentarians passed a resolution seeking cuts in aid to Cambodia unless it is able to clean up its human rights record.
The most recent aid package, which amounts to 410 million euros ($465 million), was issued in 2014.
The resolution called on “the European External Action Service (EEAS) to make the ‘amount of EU financial assistance dependent on improvements in the human rights situation in the country’,” a statement issued last week said.
“Don’t scare me. Don’t threaten me. Don’t threaten Cambodia by cutting off aid,” the Phnom Penh Post on Tuesday reported Hun Sen as having said the day before at a graduation ceremony in the capital.
According to The Cambodia Daily, Hun Sen also said that such a move would effectively kill off the country’s NGO sector.
“[T]he first to die will be the non-government organizations that are paid for by foreigners,” the Daily quoted him as saying.
He added that China, one of Cambodia’s largest benefactors, “has never ordered Cambodia to do this or that”.
The reports Tuesday coincided with the release of a statement by Australia’s Labor Party, which condemned “violence against those attempting to exercise their basic democratic rights” and asked Cambodian authorities “to release prisoners detained for social and political activism”.
The statement was shared on Facebook by Cambodian-Australian Labor MP for Victoria state, Hong Lim, who said it was issued on behalf of Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek.
“The ongoing political violence in Cambodia must stop once and for all, and we should be ready to help the Cambodian government, opposition groups and civil society build the peaceful democratic society that Cambodians so deserve,” it said.
Australia and Cambodia’s relationship of late has centered on a controversial $55-million deal to transfer refugees detained by Australia in an offshore facility on the Pacific island of Nauru to live in Cambodia.
All four of the original group left before their first year was out.
The statement also said the party supports the sentiments expressed last week by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a conversation he had with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, in which he sought assurances that the government “would ensure full respect for human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly”.
Over the past few months, the Cambodian government has detained several members of civil society.
Four human rights workers and an election official are currently in jail awaiting trial for allegedly trying to bribe the mistress of the deputy opposition leader, Kem Sokha.
The mistress had sought their help after the affair came to light.
Sokha remains holed up at the headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, where police set up barricades Tuesday.
Sokha has so far avoided arrest over his refusal to appear in court to be questioned about the affair.