Self-exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy says the European Union's proposal to limit trade with Cambodia could support democracy there.
He spoke from Malaysia after both the EU and American officials called for Cambodia to ease restrictions on rights and freedoms.
The EU completed a first version of a report on Tuesday. Sam Rainsy said the report would be the basis for suspending trade privileges for Cambodia. The EU announced earlier this year that it was taking steps to decide if it would end unlimited and tax-free imports from the Southeast Asian nation. The EU said it was concerned that Cambodia was limiting human rights and labor rights.
Cambodia's exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy talks to the media outside Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
The EU said it sent the report to Cambodian officials. It did not publish the report.
European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on social media that Cambodia has one month to answer the EU's concerns. She said the EU will make a final decision in February of next year.
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy called for the full restoration of former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha's freedom. The party was dissolved in 2017 before national elections were held the following year.
On Sunday, a Cambodian court announced that it was releasing Kem Sokha from house arrest. He was arrested more than two years ago and charged with treason. He remains barred from political activity.
Murphy called for a "completedialogue aimed at broad reconciliation so that...Cambodia can be on a path to full, multiparty democracy."
Kem Sokha's partial release suggests that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen may be seeking to satisfy critics, like the EU, by appearing to compromise. Hun Sen has detained many opposition supporters accused of plotting CNRP co-leader Sam Rainsy's return to the country.
The possibility of the EU withdrawing trade privileges from Cambodia could have a strong effect on the prime minister's hold on power.
Sam Rainsy spoke with reporters after a meeting with Malaysian lawmakers. He said, "If they don't want Cambodia to face an economic crisis, with hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs, they must restore democracy."
The EU started to reconsider its trade relationship with Cambodia after Hun Sen's ruling party won a huge victory in 2018 elections. The EU said that election was not free or fair because the country's Supreme Court had barred the CNRP.
Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that the timing is right for a peaceful movement against Hun Sen's government. He said Kem Sokha's release is evidence of pressure on the government.
Cambodia's deputy prime minister said on Facebook Sunday that Sam Rainsy was now permitted to enter the country but would face charges if he did.
Sam Rainsy said he would remain in the area.
"I will stay in the region because the situation can change very quickly, and I will go back to Cambodia," he said.
Words in This Story：
privileges –n. rights or benefits given to some people but not others
dialogue –n. a discussion or series of discussion that countries have to end disagreement
reconciliation –n. the process of getting two sides to become friendly again after a disagreement