By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday shrugged off European parliament threats to review aid if his administration continues to harass political opponents on the same day as a court jailed three more opposition activists.
The European Union has called on Hun Sen to halt “judicial harassment” of adversaries and the United Nations has also called for dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition as tension mounts in the Southeast Asian country ahead of a general election in 2018.
The European parliament said in a resolution on Thursday that aid worth around $461 million should be dependent on improvements in human rights and called on authorities drop all charges against opposition leader Sam Rainsy who has been in exile since late last year to avoid arrest.
Hun Sen, who has ruled with an iron fist for more than 30 years, said that any cut in aid would only affect foreign-paid non-governmental organization (NGO) workers, not him.
“Don’t scare and threaten me,” he said at a graduation ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh. He complemented China, Cambodia’s biggest trade partner and donor, for never making such threats and attaching conditions to aid and investment.
Hun Sen’s government has denied that charges against opposition members and rights activists are politically motivated, and said they must abide by the rule of law like all other citizens. They say they will not negotiate with criminals.
The European resolution also called for the immediate release of five rights activists who have been jailed in relation to a sex scandal probe with links to Rainsy’s deputy, Kem Sokha.
Sokha himself is holed up at the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) headquarters as he seeks to avoid arrest for failing to show up at court as a witness in a prostitution case. The scandal has gripped the country for weeks.
Also on Monday, a municipal court sentenced three CNRP supporters to seven years in jail for insurrection after an anti-government protest turned violent in 2014. The three had been in jail since 2015.
CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang urged Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to hold talks with his party to end the crisis.
“The political temperature has risen following arrests and jailings so we need to find the solution to this,” Chhay Eang said.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Simon Webb and Nick Macfie)