Cambodian PM says U.S. behind opposition leader in conspiracy

Speaking to 4,000 Cambodian garment factory workers Sunday, Hun Sen claimed Kem Sokha had colluded with the United States against his government and warned the opposition party it could be dissolved if it defended him, the AP said.

In a statement, Hun Sen's government alleged "a secret plan of conspiracy between Kem Sokha, his group, and foreigners that harms Cambodia".

Kem Sokha's daughter, Monovithya Kem, who is also a member of his embattled Cambodia National Rescue Party, said her father was taken away in handcuffs after a force of between 100 to 200 officers swept his home in a surprise raid.

"I know it's absolutely true that press freedom has come under pressure in many countries", Butler said.

"We can't allow any group to destroy the peace we hold in our hands by being the puppets of foreigners", Hun Sen said at the opening of a new mosque in Kompong Cham province.

Mr. Kem Sokha's arrest was quickly condemned by opposition leaders and worldwide human rights activists.

The charges against Sokha carry a prison sentence of 15 to 30 years.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is seen by many to be doing everything to cling on to power ahead of national elections slated for 2018.

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In its statement on Sunday, the CNRP vehemently condemned Sokha's arrest, saying that it "is politically motivated and violates law and constitution" because Sokha is a lawmaker who has parliamentary immunity.

Last month, the local office of the US-based National Democratic Institute was shuttered by Cambodia and its foreign employees were ordered to leave the country within seven days. Earlier in the year, it suspended joint military exercises with the United States, which has voiced fears over the human rights situation. Hun Sen, 65, is a former Khmer Rouge soldier who switched sides before it was driven out.

"This government move follows a number of troubling recent steps, including the imposition of unprecedented restrictions on independent media and civil society".

"The worldwide community, which provides a major percentage of the Cambodian government's annual budget, should put Hun Sen on notice that if he doesn't reverse course, it will be impossible to consider next year's elections free and fair", he said.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper, which published its last edition on Monday, said it had been forced to close after being given one month to pay a crippling $6.3 million in back taxes.

After "24 years and 15 days of journalistic activities" the newspaper said it will publish its last print edition on September 4, but will keep its website with all past articles online from a server located in a foreign country for the foreseeable future.

An independent newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, has been ordered to halt publishing by Monday because of a tax dispute, and at least 15 radio stations have been ordered to stop broadcasting programming from the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.


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