Australian politicians have condemned the regime of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo: Sawathey Ek
Australian politicians have condemned the regime of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo: Sawathey Ek

While the US government was swift in its actions against Cambodia’s regime after this year’s flawed elections, the Australian government is yet to follow the US lead. But there is some consolation for the local Cambodian diaspora, with politicians standing up for them in the federal Parliament.

The statements were made on October 23, the 27th anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. At least six members of Parliament from the Labor Party, led by Julian Hill, from the state of Victoria, delivered strong and sober speeches – against the presence of representatives of the current Cambodian regime on Australian soil.

Speaking in support of a seven-point motion were prominent members of the Labor Party, including Claire O’Neil from Victoria, Dr Jim Chalmers from Queensland, and three MPs from New South Wales: Chris Bowen (who is also shadow treasurer), Chris Hayes and Anne Stanley. Many members of the Cambodian diaspora reside within their respective electorates.

Julian Hill, the MP for Bruce, remarked: “This thuggish regime’s tentacles now reach our cities and suburbs, influencing our politics, committing crimes here and exploiting and threatening Australians.”

The Cambodian regime’s operative networks, once feared by local diaspora groups, have now been left with a clear and unequivocal message. For a member of Parliament to label members of the regime as “criminals” was unprecedented and historic.

This is monumental for local diaspora groups across Australia. After months of coordinated protests in major state capitals – Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – culminating in a litany of evidence presented to Canberra and media coverage on Australian networks, those speeches could not have come at a better time as the regime blatantly ignores the calls by the international community to reinstate the banned opposition party since Cambodia’s democracy was obliterated in November last year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his operative networks since 2016 have successfully created distrust in local communities across Australia by promoting and recruiting political radicalization among students on scholarships and other people.

And for the first time, the Cambodian strongman’s son Hun Manet has been named in the federal Parliament. Chris Hayes, the chief opposition whip, remarked: “Hun Manet has visited Australia on many occasions for this purpose, recruiting and radicalizing students from Cambodia into youth movements. I have even been approached, under the guise of charities, to support their activities in this regard.”

In condemning Cambodia’s national election and labeling the country as an autocratic state, Hayes pressed for the restoration of human rights and democracy. With respect to the regime infiltrating in the Australian community, he noted: “The influence of Hun Sen is now being played out in Australian universities, businesses and charities. The Cambodian government has been involved in recruiting students and members of the Cambodian diaspora in Australia and actively building support networks for this Cambodian dictator.”

He went on to remind the Parliament: “We cannot ignore the illicit activities by members of the Cambodian People’s Party in Australia, particularly when it comes to visa fraud and money-laundering.”

Hill posted on Facebook: “Why won’t the Liberal government stop these criminals coming to Australia? … Hun Sen’s tentacles now reach Australian cities and suburbs, influencing our politics, committing crimes, exploiting and threatening Australians. It’s time for visa bans, asset freezes, investigation of crimes and foreign influence.”

Hill also said: “Within the CPP elite, Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s son, has visited Australia many times and oversees CPP political infiltration operations here and in New Zealand…. Hun Sen’s nephew, who has children and assets in Melbourne, has been implicated in a heroin and money-laundering syndicate targeting Australia.… Hun Sen’s son-in-law and deputy chief of Cambodia’s police – a gangster force – has mysterious business in Australia [emphasis added]….

“The CPP has divided Australia and New Zealand into regions and has front groups overseen by key people in most Australian capital cities.”

Hill also took an unprecedented action in noting the Cambodian ambassador’s clandestine activities on Australian soil, which was aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation network, showing that Cambodia’s heir apparent, Hun Manet, congratulated the success of the political drive among Western nations.

Hill noted: “We have six Australian community groups which are really just local fronts for the CPP and were reportedly run out of their embassy in Canberra. Koy Kuong, Cambodia’s ambassador to Australia, is president of the CPP committee for Australia and New Zealand.”

The reality is, like Hun Sen’s flawed national election in July, a series of networks were formed to conduct surveillance among members of the diaspora in Australia who are critical of the regime. The attempt to impose fear and intimidation among these communities at an international level is disturbing and alarming.

One such case is that of Kem Sokha, leader of the banned opposition party, who spoke in Melbourne in 2013 on political strategy, and was subsequently charged with treason.

In the Australian Senate, Cambodia was also on the agenda. The Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, pursued Foreign Minister Marise Payne on the possibility of Australia imposing sanctions on Cambodia, and whether the current situation in Cambodia amounts to a “violation of the Paris Peace Accords.” The minister advised that all options were still under consideration and any decision had to be “discreet and considerate.”

It is clear that Australia and New Zealand are not the only countries that have attracted Hun Sen’s operations. In other jurisdictions including the UK, the US, Canada and European countries where there are large concentrations of Cambodian expatriates, the regime has similar networks, often operated as part of social activities and charities.

The need for all Western governments and politicians to take similar measures as those being carried by Australia politicians is critical, as the Cambodian regime is becoming more daring and abusive in its quest to gain international legitimacy. Complacency will result in these countries becoming alternative sanctuaries in which Cambodian authoritarianism can prosper.

Sawathey Ek is a lawyer based in Sydney.

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