Hun Sen to 'hit back' at crackdown critics

He vows to 'shame' Australia, block joint statement at regional summit if pressured

PHNOM PENH • Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened to "shame" Australia and block the release of a joint statement at a regional summit in Sydney next month if he faces pressure over a political crackdown at home.

Mr Hun Sen has been chastised by Western countries for taking a hammer to Cambodia's democracy in recent months by dissolving the main opposition party, shuttering independent news outlets and pursuing critics in the courts.

In a speech on Wednesday, the brash leader said he would not tolerate any pressure on domestic politics when he attends a summit of the 10-member Asean hosted by Australia next month.

"Hun Sen can block the release of any statement between Asean and Australia... Australia cannot pressure Cambodia. Don't dare," he said of the regional bloc that operates by consensus. "If you treat me inappropriately, I will hit back and leave shame on your face at the scene," Mr Hun Sen added.

The Premier also warned would-be protesters in Australia, where there is a sizeable population of Cambodian refugees from the Khmer Rouge years, not to burn his image in any demonstrations.

It would not be the first time Cambodia has used its intransigence to block or dilute an Asean statement.

In 2012, Asean foreign ministers failed to release a joint communique for the first time at the end of their annual gathering, with the Philippines blaming event host Cambodia for blocking criticism of Beijing's actions in the South China Sea.

THREAT TO RETALIATE

If you treat me inappropriately, I will hit back and leave shame on your face at the scene.

CAMBODIAN PRIME MINISTER HUN SEN

Cambodia was also accused of forcing the group to water down criticism of Beijing in a statement issued at the end of a 2016 meeting.

Cambodia's crackdown in recent months has pushed it closer to China, which has lavished the country with cash, while rattling relations with the United States and the European Union, which pulled support for July elections after the opposition was disbanded.

An official source at Germany's Foreign Ministry told Agence France-Presse yesterday that the government had suspended preferential visa treatment for private travel by Cambodian government members, including Mr Hun Sen and his family, and had encouraged EU partners to take similar steps.

"The suspension was taken as a measure to react on the intensifying repression against political opposition and the press," the source said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Hun Sen to 'hit back' at crackdown critics'. Print Edition | Subscribe