Groups Blast Hun Sen’s Arrests of Border Critics

International trade union federations and human rights groups have condemned Prime Minister Hun Sen’s arrest of border critics, saying it will do nothing but hurt Cambo­dia’s image.

The organizations called for an end to harassment of those who have criticized the government and prime minister over border issues and for the immediate release of Beehive 105 FM Radio owner Mam Sonando and Cambodia Indepen­dent Teachers’ Association president Rong Chhun.

“The very hostile climate trade unionists have endured in Cam­bo­dia since the beginning of 2004

…severely tarnishes the image of Cambodia abroad,” the 145 million-member International Confed­er­ation of Free Trade Unions wrote in a statement dated Tuesday.

It went on to describe the arrests as “a matter of grave concern for the entire international trade union movement.”

The National Tertiary Education Union, which represents 27,000 Aus­tralian university staff members, and Public Services International, re­presenting 20 million public sector workers in 140 countries, expressed similar concerns.

Mam Sonando was arrested last week for broadcasting an interview on his radio station that heavily criticized Hun Sen’s border policies and accused him of allowing Vietnam to take Cambodian territory.

Rong Chhun was arrested in Poi­pet on Saturday while trying to enter Thailand after Hun Sen filed complaints against him and three other men who had formed the Cam­bo­dia Watchdog Council and criticized Hun Sen’s signing of a controversial additional border agreement with Vietnam on Oct 11.

New York based-Human Rights Watch also condemned the recent events, describing them as “the most severe assault on dissent in Cambodia since the aftermath of Hun Sen’s coup in 1997.”

“International donors and em­bassies must make it clear to Hun Sen that they will not tolerate the reversal of the important strides made in basic human rights during the last decade,” the rights group said Tuesday.

Rights Watch added that Thai­land should not cooperate in extraditing two other men, Cambodian In­­de­pen­dent Civil Servant As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Man Nath and Stu­dent Move­ment for Democracy Se­cre­tary-General Ear Channa, who al­so have warrants issued for their ar­rests.

On Monday, Hun Sen said the government knew the two men were with the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees in Bangkok and warned that Thailand would be ask­ed to send them back.

Thai Ambassador Piyawat Ni­yo­mrerks said he had not received any extradition request and Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Hem Heng said he did not know if such a request was being drawn up.

Giuseppe de Vincentis, spokes­man for the UNHCR office in Bang­kok, said the two men were not with his agency on Tuesday and de­clined further comment.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith dismissed the critical statements Wednesday, saying the government is always portrayed negatively by trade unions and rights groups outside the country.

“They don’t understand the situation in Cambodia,” he said, adding the government is taking the steps it feels is necessary to preserve national security. “If there is fighting here, who will be responsible?” he asked.

Khieu Kanharith also said he didn’t believe the country’s image would be damaged internationally by the events, though he added that this is not the country’s main concern.

“Do you want to keep your image and be overthrown?” he asked.

Sources said European diplomats met Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to respond to recent events but the results of the meeting were not immediately clear.


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