The federal government has confronted Cambodia over allegations of threats made against the Khmer diaspora and possible meddling in Australian affairs after Prime Minister Hun Sen returned his country to a one party state at elections in July.
This included the recruitment of Cambodian students and intimidation of the Khmer community by “apparent” agents operating in-country at the behest of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“We don’t condone those activities and we take those allegations very seriously,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne recently told a Senate Estimates Committee, adding she was confident the government had taken all necessary measures.
The committee, led by Senator Penny Wong, heard office-to-office representations were made to the Cambodian ambassador in Canberra on August 21 and then through the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on September 19.
“We are concerned about suggestions that individuals may be threatening in Australia, that’s why we’ve made representations to the Cambodian government, that’s why we have forwarded those threats to a number of appropriate authorities in Australia,” Payne said.
A video of the hearing was released on Thursday. The Cambodian diaspora in Australia, and in the United States and Europe, was vocal ahead of the July 29 poll.
The diaspora burned effigies of Hun Sen after he threatened to beat up anyone who protested his presence at the March ASEAN Summit in Sydney.
Media reports also documented allegations of intimidation in suburbs heavily populated by Cambodians and Vietnamese, like Springvale in Melbourne’s south east, by Hun Sen’s nephew Hun To, who has also been tied to drug trafficking.
Victorian police are investigating death threats made against the widow of activist Kem Ley who fled to Australia after her husband was gunned down in 2016.
And Cambodia’s tax chief Kong Vibol also featured heavily amid allegations he acquired properties in Melbourne in violation of Australian residency laws and could face jail for lying to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.
Heang Tak, a spokesman for the Khmer community in Melbourne and a Labor party candidate for the next Victorian election, said the Australian Federal Police had been in touch with him over the allegations.
“The diaspora in Australia is really frustrated,” he told AAP. “The Australian government should not allow CPP cronies to come and go freely.”
He added acts of threats and intimidation “seems to have quietened down since the elections but we don’t know what they’ll do next because they won all the seats” in the Cambodian parliament.
Cambodia is potentially facing a loss of trade preferences by the EU and sanctions by the United States following a ban on the main political opposition party ahead of the elections, that enabled his CPP to win every seat in the 125-seat parliament.
Calls for Australia to also impose sanctions have grown louder.