Former Cambodian opposition leader calls for sanctions against country's leaders

Former Cambodian opposition leader calls for sanctions against country's leaders

Former Cambodian opposition leader calls for sanctions against country's leaders

Updated 16 September 2017, 22:35 AEST

Former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy calls for the West to impose sanctions on Cambodia's leaders, such as visa bans, amid a crackdown on critics ahead of next year's elections.

Former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy is calling for sanctions to be imposed on Cambodia's leaders amid a crackdown on critics ahead of next year's elections.

Sam Rainsy resigned as the head of the Cambodian National Rescue Party on February 11 to save his party from forced dissolution after threats were made by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

He has been living in self-imposed exile in Paris since 2015, but continues the fight for democratic change back home.

"Cambodia is at a tipping point, I think next year's election will see the democratic process going really in the right direction," he said.

After almost a fortnight since opposition leader Kem Sokha's arrest for treason, Sam Rainsy said he was surprised at the "brutality" of the move.

The arrest marks a new escalation in a campaign against critics, independent media and any potential threats to Hun Sen's hold on power ahead of an election next year at which Kem Sokha has been expected to be his main challenger.

"I did not expect Hun Sen, our Prime Minister, to dare do such a thing in total violation of the constitution," Sam Rainsy said.

"He effectively suspends all the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution."

Sanctions from West could sway leaders: Sam Rainsy

To help his cause, Sam Rainsy said other countries could make any further assistance conditional to the respect of human rights, and take individual sanctions — such as visa vans — against leaders.

"They will be very afraid to lose opportunities to come to Australia, to the US, to Europe, where they have hidden their ill-gotten money," he said.

"It will be effective because once their personal interest are hurt, then they will take into consideration, otherwise they just don't care and continue to oppress the people."

Although China provided assistance, he said Cambodia and its Government still heavily relied on aid from Western countries.

"The Cambodian Government budget is financed for up 40 per cent by assistance from the West, and also Cambodia industries rely on the markets in the Western world, in the US, in Europe, in Japan, in Australia," he said.

"China is a competitor to Cambodia because we are selling the same products to the West."

Sam Rainsy pointed to an international treaty called the Paris Peace Accords on Cambodia, where he said former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans played a very important role.

"We call on Australia to revive the spirit of the Paris Peace Accords in order to put Cambodia back on track, on the path of democracy, because the democratisation process has completely derailed," he said.

"It is an obligation of the international community to put the democratisation process back on track."