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U.S. sets travel restrictions on Cambodian Officials

U.S. sets visa restrictions on Cambodian Officials

The United States issued new visa restrictions against those individuals who are "undermining democracy" in Cambodia. The travel constraints will be imposed on officials who, according to the US, are violating human rights.

The US State Department has called Phnom Penh to reverse its anti-democratic actions against the opposition party. Though the US hasn't called out Prime Minister Hun Sen directly, their official statement said, "“In direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions, we announce the Secretary of State will restrict entry into the United States of those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia.”

Hun Sen has been the head of the Cambodian government for more than 30 years. The actions against the political opposition party and the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, come before the July 2018 elections. Recently, the government of Cambodia shuttered the non-profit National Democratic Institute and deported all foreign staff, including American citizens.

Cambodia's government has also forced the Cambodia Daily newspaper to close after they were given a large tax bill. The State Department explained in the statement, "We call on the Cambodian government to reverse course by reinstating the political opposition, releasing Kem Sokha, and allowing civil society and media to resume their constitutionally protected activities."

The Cambodia Foreign Affairs Ministry has released a statement in regards to the visa restrictions placed on Cambodian officials, "The move was politically motivated, with prejudice and double standards."According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the legal actions taken against a few media outlets, NGOs, and law-breaking citizens should not be perceived as an attempt toward democracy. "The US reaction to Cambodia’s recent political development does not appear to be about democratic values, considering its different treatment toward various countries on the matter of democracy and respect for human rights,” the statement said.

Opposition leader's daughter, Kem Mnovithay, shared on Twitter, "We welcome the visa ban from the US on Cambodian officials." Critics of the current Cambodian government appreciate the travel ban and see it as the strongest reaction to the dictatorship in the nominally democratic country. Not only will Cambodian officials face travel restrictions, but their family members will be banned from traveling to the United States too. Many Cambodian government officials have family members living in the United States and children of the elite often chose to study in American universities.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that the travel ban and visa restrictions would be lifted if the political opposition was reinstated. She added that "releasing Kem Sokha, and allowing civil society and media to resume their constitutionally protected activities … could lead to a lifting of these travel restrictions and increase the potential for Cambodia’s 2018 electoral process to regain legitimacy.”