Tue, Sep 20, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Cambodian leader vows to ‘eliminate’ rivals over protests

AFP, PHNOM PENH

Cambodia’s strongman prime minister yesterday vowed to “eliminate” his opponents if they push ahead with plans for nationwide protests against an ongoing government crackdown that has sparked international alarm.

The latest rhetoric, some of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s strongest in recent months, ratchets up worsening political tensions in the kingdom, which is to hold national elections in 2018.

Rights groups have accused long-ruling Hun Sen’s administration of arresting scores of critics and tying up other opponents in legal cases.

Main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) vice president Kem Sokha has been holed up for weeks in his office, sleeping on a makeshift bed.

He was handed a jail sentence earlier this month for refusing to appear in court over an alleged sex scandal prosecution that the opposition says is politically motivated.

His party has threatened to hold nationwide demonstrations if moves are made to arrest him or if the crackdown continues.

“Don’t threaten [me] with demonstrations in exchange for talks. No way, youngest brother,” Hun Sen said at a university graduation ceremony yesterday, in a characteristically lengthy speech.

“This is not just a warning, it is more serious than a warning, because it is an order to eliminate those who destroy security and social order,” he said, adding that foreign countries had no right to criticize his administration.

Last week, a group of 36 states — including the EU and the US — issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned” about escalating political tensions in Cambodia.

Hun Sen, a former army commander who defected from the Khmer Rouge, has dominated Cambodian politics over the past 31 years.

His administration claims it has brought much needed peace and stability to a nation ravaged by civil war.

However, opposition groups have gained ground in recent years amid growing disillusionment with endemic corruption, rights abuses and political repression.

The CNRP accuses Hun Sen of denying it a majority by rigging the 2013 election in his favor, a charge the prime minister denies.

CNRP president Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen’s chief rival, has spent nearly one year in self-imposed exile to avoid arrest warrants he claims are politically motivated.

More than a dozen of opposition figures, including two lawmakers, are currently in prison facing charges, while more than 20 political activists and rights workers have faced legal action over the past year.

Four land activists were yesterday sentenced to six months in jail each for allegedly insulting public officials during a protest in 2011.

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