Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday ordered his military to collect and destroy any U.S.-made arms found in Cambodia, lashing out at an arms embargo imposed by Washington as an American diplomat visited Phnom Penh for talks on bilateral and regional issues.
The U.S. imposed an embargo on arms sales to the Southeast Asian country on Wednesday, citing concerns about “deepening Chinese military influence” in the country.
China is backing the refurbishment of a naval base at Reap, near Cambodia’s port of Sihanoukville. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2019 that a secret treaty had been signed granting the Chinese Navy use of the base for 30 years. The Cambodian government called the report “fake news.”
Writing on his Facebook page on Friday, Hun Sen said that U.S.-made weapons and equipment “must be collected to store in warehouses or destroyed.”
Countries that have used U.S. weapons in the past have “mostly lost wars,” Hun Sen said, citing the examples of the U.S.-backed Cambodian government of President Lon Nol, which was overthrown in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, and more recently of Afghanistan.
Hun Sen in his Facebook post also warned Cambodia’s younger generation not to use U.S.-made weapons if they want to protect their country’s independence.
Hun Sen’s comments came as U.S. diplomat Derek Chollet visited Cambodia for talks with government representatives, civil society groups and journalists on human rights, the political crisis in Myanmar, and Cambodia’s plans for its 2022 chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Human rights were a major focus of discussions, said Chollet, who is the State Department counselor.
“Today, on Human Rights Day, I was honored to meet members of Cambodian civil society to hear their views on human rights, the environment, labor conditions, and press freedom,” Chollet wrote on his Twitter account on Friday.
“Promoting respect for human rights is central to U.S. foreign policy in Cambodia and around the world.”
In a statement Friday, Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, called for U.S. pressure on Hun Sen to “end the rapidly expanding crackdown on his political opponents that’s resulted in widespread arrests, mass show trials, and aggressive pursuit of recognized refugees overseas.”
Writing before Chollet’s meetings, he said: “The worsening onslaught on democratic norms, media freedom, and human rights in Cambodia cannot simply be ignored because Hun Sen enjoys the spotlight as ASEAN chair.”
The announcement of an arms embargo by the Department of Commerce on Wednesday was the latest in a series of measures targeting the kingdom’s growing ties to Beijing.
The move followed the imposition in November of sanctions against two senior Cambodian military officials Washington alleged had conspired to illicitly profit from the Ream refurbishment project.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November 2017 over an alleged plot backed by the United States to topple the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for over 35 years.
The move to ban the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media. Scores of supporters of the group have since been incarcerated, awaiting a tortuous legal process made slower by COVID-19 restrictions.
Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, and Washington DC 20036Radio Free Europe–Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.