The Unites States has imposed sanctions on the head of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit for serious human rights abuses.
General Hing Bun Hieng is the commander of the well-armed, paramilitary force devoted to Cambodia’s ruler of 33 years.
“As a result of these actions, any property, or interest in property, of those designated today within US jurisdiction is blocked,” the US Treasury said.
“Additionally, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with blocked persons.”
The sanctions announcement cited a 2015 attack by three Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit (PMBU) members on two opposition politicians.
The MPs were dragged out of their cars and beaten in front of the Parliament, as police and the public watched on.
“In the 2015 incident, only three members of the PMBU were sent to jail after they confessed to participating in an attack on opposition lawmakers, and were promoted upon their release,” the US Treasury said.
It also noted a 1997 attack, in which four hand grenades were thrown into a crowd surrounding then-opposition leader Sam Rainsy, killing at least 16 people.
American citizen Ron Abney was wounded by shrapnel in the attack.
An FBI investigation found the attackers escaped towards Hun Sen’s compound, running through a perimeter of bodyguard unit soldiers who then stopped people from chasing the attackers.
‘This is a start’
The US sanctions are a significant development in American pressure on the Cambodian Government, which has dismantled the political opposition and denied basic human rights ahead of an election on July 29.
Deputy director-general of public affairs at the now-outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Monovithya said:
“This shows that human rights violators in Cambodia won’t go unpunished. This is a start.”
“I hope also the Hun Sen regime reconsiders its actions including the release of opposition leader Kem Sokha,” she said, referring to her father.
He has been held in pre-trial detention at a remote prison since his arrest in September on treason charges that are widely considered politically motivated.
General Hing Bun Hieng (left), Hun Sen (right)
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has also been caught in the political crossfire, accused of spying and held for a year.
Mr Ricketson’s trial begins on Friday and he faces a possible 10-year prison sentence.
Australia continues a military-to-military cooperation program with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, focusing mostly on English language and officer training.
However, the Cambodian Government abruptly cancelled planned military exercises with Australia and the US last year, while carrying on with war games involving China.
Beijing’s financial and political support has allowed Hun Sen to largely ignore diplomatic pressure from other nations to reform.
As a result, the elections next month are a foregone conclusion — Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party will win easily.