The United States imposed an arms embargo on Cambodia for alleged rights violations and increasing Chinese military influence in the country, specifically targeting a military intelligence unit run by the prime minister’s son.
The U.S. Commerce Department announced late Wednesday night that it was restricting the export, reexport and transfer of arms, equipment and other related materials for military use and intelligence gathering to Cambodia. Firms would need to apply for a license to export items on a restricted list, including for military use and military end users.
“We urge the Cambodian government to make meaningful progress in addressing corruption and human rights abuses, and to work to reduce the influence of the [People’s Republic of China] military in Cambodia, which threatens regional and global security,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
There has been a recent escalation in targeted sanctions by the U.S., with two Cambodian military officials sanctioned in November under the Global Magnitsky Act and U.S. businesses warned against potential exposure to the Cambodian military.
The U.S. said it was concerned with increased military presence in the country, especially at the Ream Naval base in Preah Sihanouk, which was on the agenda during U.S State Department official Wendy Sherman’s visit to Cambodia in June. Hun Sen agreed to allow a U.S. defense official to visit the controversial base but the U.S. later claimed they were given only limited access to the base.
Hun Sen last week said he was done with the Ream issue and instructed Defense Minister Tea Banh to reject any requests for visits to the base. Sherman had warned that any Chinese presence at Ream would negatively impact relations with the U.S., with Banh telling VOA that the Chinese were assisting in an overhaul of the base but would not remain there after renovations were completed.
The new restrictions also apply to military intelligence gathering, with the U.S. Commerce Department statement singling out the RCAF’s General Department of Research and Intelligence, which is headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s second son, Hun Manith.
Manith was made director general of the department in August 2017, according to government-friendly outlet Fresh News.
The new classification of Manith’s unit puts it in a notorious group of eight sanctioned intelligence services, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau and Syria’s Military Intelligence Service.
VOD could not reach Manith and Defense Ministry spokesperson Chhum Socheat on Thursday.
Sok Eysan, spokesperson for the CPP, brushed off the embargo because Cambodia had no need for weapons and would instead use its money to build infrastructure.
“I do not consider it as a sanction because Cambodia has no need to buy weapons for battle and because violence, weapons and war is out of date,” Eysan said. “If Cambodia has money to buy weapons, no need to buy and [instead] use the money to build roads, streets, port and airports, which are much better.”
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan questioned the decision to target Cambodia for its human rights violations.
“Whether [Vietnam] has human rights or is democratic or not?” he said. “Singapore and Indonesia, as well as the Philippines, whether they have human rights or not or democratic?”
The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said it had no comment beyond what was in the announcement.