Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened to retaliate against the opposition if the European Union went ahead with plans to withdraw trade benefits over human rights concerns.
The EU in November began a formal procedure to strip Cambodia of its Everything But Arms (EBA) status, after the July general election in which Hun Sen’s party won all the seats after cracking down on the opposition.
“If you want the opposition dead, just cut it,” Hun Sen said in a speech on Monday at the opening of a ring road around the capital, Phnom Penh, addressing the EU and referring to Cambodia’s EBA status.
“If you want the opposition alive, don’t do it and come and hold talks together,” he said.
EBA is an initiative aimed at helping poorer countries. It can be withdrawn in the case of serious violations of human rights conventions.
The EU threatened to withdraw the trade preferences because of a crackdown on the opposition ahead of the July election.
Hun Sen, 66, who also marked 34 years as prime minister on Monday, said that he would not forgive those who had appealed to Western countries to cut aid to put pressure on his government, and said critics should get ready to flee abroad.
“I won’t forgive them,” he said.
The country’s Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and banned 118 party members in 2017 at the request of the government after accusations that the party was plotting to take power with the help of the United States.
The CNRP and the US rejected any such plot.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha was released from prison in September after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges but remains under house arrest in Phnom Penh.
He denies any wrongdoing. Other senior party members have left the country for fear of arrest.
EU countries took about 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports in 2016, mostly from the garment sector, which employs about 700,000 people.
EU Ambassador George Edgar and the CNRP did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Monday.