Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told his cabinet on Friday he had no fear of Western sanctions after some US senators threatened to push for travel restrictions over his arrest of the main opposition leader in the country, the government spokesman said.
Hun Sen’s critics accuse him of destroying democracy in Cambodia to ensure that he wins re-election next year to extend more than 32 years in power.
US Senator Ted Cruz said he would push for a travel ban on top officials if opposition leader Kem Sokha was not freed by November 9. Senators John McCain and Dick Durbin have also called for travel restrictions if the crackdown continues.
Hun Sen told a weekly cabinet meeting that sanctions by Western donors don’t worry him, the government spokesman said.
“Samdech said he doesn’t have wealth abroad and there is no necessity for him to step on US soil,” Phay Siphan told Reuters, using Hun Sen’s official title.
He is accused of plotting to take power with the help of unspecified Americans, an accusation he denies.
The government has also asked the courts to dissolve Kem Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and Hun Sen has called on its members of parliament and other elected officials to defect to his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Pro-government media said one parliamentarian and some local councilors had defected.
Kem Sokha’s daughter Monovithya Kem said that if he were not released and the pressure did not end on the CNRP, it would mean that next year’s election would lack legitimacy.
“Hun Sen’s government cannot survive without that legitimacy,” she told Reuters. “Cambodia would become a pariah state if the government doesn’t reverse course soon.”
Western countries have called for the release of Kem Sokha and have intensified lobbying.
Hun Sen has been increasingly isolated from Western donor pressure by his strong relationship with China, which has become by far the biggest giver of foreign aid as well as the biggest investor in Cambodia.