Washington’s decision to cut off aid and halt military support to Cambodia, as well as a threat of sanctions by the European Union, were described as “an insult” by the Cambodian government. The country’s prime minister, Hun Sen, also said his country is importing thousands of tonnes of military weapons from an unnamed nation.

The White House announced it was ending or curtailing several US Treasury Department, USAID, and American military assistance programmes that support Cambodia’s taxation department, local governments, and military.

As reported by Radio Free Asia (RFA), the US cited recent setbacks to democracy in Cambodia, including the recent Senate elections in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) took all seats in an uncontested vote held just over three months after the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Washington has spent more than $1bn in support for Cambodia over the last 25 years, the White House said, adding that aid for health care, agriculture, and mine-clearing would continue.

On February 26, the EU threatened the Cambodian government with “specific targeted measures” if it failed to stop using the judiciary as a “political tool” to harass and intimidate political opponents, civil society, labour rights activists, and human rights defenders.

“It is sad and shocking that our friends have decided to cut their development assistance to Cambodia!” wrote Phay Siphan, spokesman of Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, on his Facebook in response to the aid cuts.

“Such sanctions are nothing short of an insult to Cambodians and hurt those who love real democracy,” he said, adding that the U.S. and other Western countries had intervened in Cambodia’s internal affairs when the Southeast Asia nation was going through “a bitter period” in 1970-1975.

Meanwhile, during a speech to several thousand factory workers in Kampong Speu province last week, Hun Sen said Cambodia is receiving thousands of tons of military supplies, including weapons, from a foreign country he did not name, but is believed to be China, reported RFA.

“Last night our special goods were shipped to Cambodia,” he said. “By special goods I mean something that is confidential. However they are not drugs. They are up to 10,000 tonnes of supplies. They were transported in containers. A country must have the means of national defence.”

In his address to factory workers, Hun Sen also encouraged Cambodian-Australians to burn and vandalize seven-headed naga, or dragon, statues that decorate Cambodian temples in Australia if they do not like him rather than burn effigies of him, as they have threatened to do.

A week ago, the premier said he would beat protesters who burned photos of him during an upcoming trip to Australia and threatened to boycott the ASEAN-Australian Special Summit on March 17-18 over pressure on his government for its crackdown on the opposition, The Phnom Penh Post reported.