U.S. suspends visas for Cambodian foreign ministry officials

U.S. suspends visas for Cambodian foreign ministry officials”

Cambodia's main opposition party said on Tuesday that it would stand in next year's election despite the treason charges against its leader and a threat by Prime Minister Hun Sen that it could be dissolved. He is the only serious election rival to Hun Sen, who is one of China's closest allies in Southeast Asia.

An English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, was shut down last week by Cambodian authorities, and more than a dozen radio stations that broadcast dissident voices or used programing from USA government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were forced to stop broadcasting for alleged breach of regulations.

Radio Free Asia, which like The Cambodia Daily and Voice of America was accused by the authorities of being delinquent in paying taxes, announced Tuesday in Washington that it was closing its operations inside Cambodia, though it would continue broadcasting and reporting from outside the country.

Reacting to the visa announcement, government spokesman Phay Siphan said it showed the United States did not recognize human rights.

"If Cambodia's elections were held today, no credible global observer would certify them as free, fair and reflecting the will of the Cambodian people", Heidt said.

Western countries have criticized the arrest of Kem Sokha, which marked an escalation in a crackdown on critics ahead of a poll next year that could pose the toughest electoral challenge the 65-year-old Hun Sen has faced during his long rule.

The US Embassy in Cambodia today stopped issuing visas to senior Cambodian foreign ministry officials and their families, an action initiated by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Kem Sokha's Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had planned to hold a ceremony at a memorial in the capital, Phnom Penh, to mark an attack in which at least 16 people were killed at a rally on March 30, 1997 organised by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

USA law requires foreign nationals who were convicted felons to be deported, including those with permanent resident status, after they have served their prison sentences. About 1,000 others have not yet been sent back because Cambodia recently stopped accepting them.

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