Foreign ministry slams US sanctions as ‘politically driven’

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation “strongly deplores the long-arm jurisdiction of the United States” over Cambodian officials based on “groundless allegations driven by geopolitical motives”, according to spokesman Koy Kuong.

“The smear campaign and unilateral sanction of the United States against public figures of a sovereign state not only violate international laws and basic norms governing international relations but display an utter contempt for the independence of another country as well as act as a serious interference in its domestic affairs,” he said.

The reaction came after the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two Cambodian military commanders – Ministry of National Defence director-general for Material and Technical Services Chao Phirun and Royal Cambodia Armed Forces (RCAF) commander Tea Vinh – alleging corruption.

The US department said Phirun and Vinh “are designated pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world”.

It alleged that in 2020-2021, Phirun “conspired to profit from activities regarding the construction and updating of Ream Naval Base facilities.

“Additionally, [Phirun, Vinh] and other Cambodian government officials likely conspired to inflate the cost of facilities at Ream Naval Base and personally benefit from the proceeds. [The two officials] planned to share funds skimmed from the Ream Naval Base project.”

Kuong said the US’ “designation runs counter to the Resolution of the Human Rights Council [46/5] adopted in March 2021, which strongly condemns the continued application of unilateral coercive measures by certain powers as tools of pressure against least developed and developing countries, with a view to preventing them from exercising their right to decide their own political, economic and social systems”.

“Cambodia has always expressed its desire for stronger and closer relations, despite the painful past with the United States,” he said.

He noted that the US Department of State had earlier this week signalled its interest in “working together with Cambodia as the next ASEAN Chair”.

“However, the illegally imposed prohibition is another step in the wrong direction, which totally deviates from the spirit of amity and renewed endeavours to elevate the productive partnership between the two countries in the area of trade and investment, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, POW/MIA [military members who are prisoners of war or are missing in action], repatriation, peace corps volunteers, people-to-people linkage and other key regional issues of shared interests,” Kuong said.