Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Where Cambodian Leader Sees US Plots, Others See US Inaction

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Where Cambodian Leader Sees US Plots, Others See US Inaction

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Cambodia's leader is destroying a political opposition movement that threatens his three-decade grip on power, and he's accusing America of plotting his downfall. An influential opposition figure is in Washington wondering if she'll get any help at all.

Prime Minister Hun Sen talks about nefarious U.S. designs to unseat him, but the United States rejects that claim as baseless, and experts say his attacks are driven by a fear of losing elections next year.

Opposition leader Kem Sokha is imprisoned, and his party seems likely to be dissolved this week by Cambodia's highest court. His daughter, a spokeswoman for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is urging President Donald Trump's administration to act quickly and try to salvage democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

"Hun Sen thinks the world is not paying attention and that nobody is prepared to do anything about it," said Monovithya Kem, who wants the United States to impose sanctions on Cambodian officials complicit in the crackdown.

Monovithya said about 20 lawmakers, out of the party's 55 in the 123-member National Assembly, had fled Cambodia since Kem Sokha was arrested Sept. 3 and charged with treason, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Monovithya and her sister also fled, fearing arrest. The government accuses them of conspiring with the CIA.

It's not unusual for Cambodian politicians to demonize the U.S. There's fertile history to draw on.

U.S. secret bombing during the Vietnam War is often blamed for the rise of the Khmer Rouge, whose late-1970s genocidal rule killed a quarter of the Cambodian population. After a Vietnamese invasion toppled the Khmer Rouge, the U.S. voted for a coalition including the former rulers to retain Cambodia's U.N. seat instead of giving it to the Vietnam-backed government.

Since Cambodia emerged from civil war in the 1990s, however, the U.S. has been a more benign presence. Since 1991, it has provided $1.8 billion in aid for development and democracy promotion and $60 million in military assistance, U. …

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