Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly lashed out at Western diplomats on Monday, saying they have insulted him in the past by visiting with detained opposition leader Kem Sokha.
“In the future, don’t be arrogant again in the application of your foreign policy,” he said at the inauguration of a tire factory in Sihanoukville.
“The diplomats in Phnom Penh should understand it,” the prime minister said. “It is because of you, you made me not trust you. Therefore, why should I do work that is in favor of you?”
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 on treason charges. He was finally sentenced in March to 27 years in prison in a verdict widely condemned as politically motivated.
It was unclear if any diplomats have visited Kem Sokha since the March verdict. Before his sentencing, ambassadors from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States often met with him at his Phnom Penh home while he was under house arrest.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman went to see Kem Sokha during a June 2021 trip that included a meeting with Hun Sen. An angry prime minister later said that she secretly went to Kem Sokha’s home without informing the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
‘Foreigners who insult me’
On Monday, Hun Sen said he doesn’t “trust foreigners who insult me, insult my sovereignty, insult myself when they worked with me and at the same time worked with others.”
He issued a similar public warning in April when he cautioned “Cambodia’s foreign friends” who support opposition party groups and politicians.
“You have to choose between an individual group that breaks the laws and the government,” he said. “Please choose one. If you need those who were penalized by law, please do so, and you can then break diplomatic relations from Cambodia.”
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Stephanie Arzate told Radio Free Asia that the United States doesn’t “support any particular individual, institution, or political party” in Cambodia. But American officials “regularly meet with a wide range of individuals, in accordance with diplomatic norms and practices.”
Kem Sokha has always denied the charges that led to his arrest, which took place months after the party he co-founded – the Cambodia National Rescue Party – had a strong showing in that year’s local commune elections.
The arrest kicked off a broad government crackdown against civic activists and journalists. A similar crackdown has taken place in recent months against activists for the Candlelight Party, which has taken the CNRP’s place as the country’s main opposition party.
‘Just a political trick’
Last week, the National Election Committee ruled that the Candlelight Party couldn’t appear on the ballot for the July parliamentary elections, citing inadequate paperwork.
Australia-based social development researcher Seng Sary said Hun Sen may have brought up the embassy visits to divert public attention ahead of the election and to show he is a strong politician who isn’t afraid to confront powerful countries.
“This is just a political trick to draw support and to show power to the people and to the opposition leadership,” he said.
Hun Sen also said on Monday there remains a possibility that Kem Sokha could be pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni – but only if the prime minister chooses to make the request in writing to the king.
Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Khmer.