Australia urged to introduce sanctions against Cambodia's Hun Sen government

THE UNITED STATES on Wednesday announced new visa restrictions upon individuals it said were involved in "undermining democracy" and violating human rights in Cambodia. "This statement shows that the United States is destroying democracy", government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters, saying that the actions against the opposition had been legal and took place through the courts and parliament. It said visa records are confidential under USA law.

Hun Sen - who has ruled the Kingdom for more than 30 years - is presiding over what many have claimed is a crackdown against political opposition ahead of elections in 2018. Kem Sokha was arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with US help.

Nauert said Cambodia's actions run counter to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. He has warned of a return to civil war if he were to lose the election.

The State Department did not disclose which Cambodian ruling party officials would be affected by the restrictions but said in certain instances, their relatives could be also be barred from entering the US. The announcement only mentioned that individuals could be denied entry under a provision of U.S. immigration law if the secretary concludes it would have "adverse foreign policy consequences".

The latest condemnation from the U.S. comes after the White House cut funding for the nation's upcoming national election, reasoning in a statement issued last month that the 2018 election vote "will not be legitimate, free or fair".

Cambodia's relations with the USA have gone into deep freeze in recent months.

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"It is the decision made by the United States government, but for Cambodia, the relationship of the two countries remains the same", he said Thursday. "We are calling for targeted sanctions, which means not issuing visas to high-ranking officials, no scholarships for soldiers coming from Cambodia to Australia, we are calling for the freezing of assets of high-ranking officials coming to Australia".

Like many prominent opposition figures, Kem has fled Cambodia as she fears arrest.

"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 State Department said in a statement.

Hun Sen's government has singled out US-funded media outlets critical of the regime, limiting access to Voice of America and forcing Radio Free Asia to shutter.

Hun Sen has built close ties to China and dismisses Western pressure to improve rights.

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