To observe Cambodia’s political crisis ahead of a general election on July 29, a delegation from the European Union is concluding a week-long fact-finding mission in the country. Nearly a dozen commissioners from the EU arrived in the country to determine whether to it should be suspended from it’s the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
If the delegation gives the green light, all exports to the EU are tariff-free, with the exception of weapons, under the scheme.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), delegates met with several local rights groups and trade unions, as well as Te Chanmono – the wife of the now-dissolved main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha, who has been held in prison since his arrest in September on charges of treason – to discuss Cambodia’s rights record and the state of democracy in the country.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November over allegations it was involved in a plot to topple the government, stripping the party’s officials of their posts and banning many lawmakers from politics for five years. The CNRP’s seats in parliament were distributed to government-friendly parties that had been rejected by voters.
The dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest of Kem Sokha, as well as a months-long crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, are measures widely seen as part of a bid by Prime Minister Hun Sen to ensure that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) stays in power in Cambodia following the July 29 general election. Hun Sen marks 33 years in office this year.
Soeung Sen Karona, spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday that he and other NGO representatives met with EU delegates on July 6 and expressed their concerns over ongoing rights violations in Cambodia.
EU ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar confirmed to RFA that the delegation met with a wide variety of stakeholders during its visit.
“The mission has met a range of interlocutors from government, civil society, labour unions, the private sector and the international community,” he wrote in an email.
Last week, five pro-government union organisations issued a joint statement urging the EU not to suspend the EBA, saying the scheme provides crucial benefits to Cambodia.
“The EBA has created employment in Cambodia and elevated people out of poverty,” the statement said.
Cambodia’s security forces are illegally campaigning for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), according to local rights groups.