Even as the EU’s decision to potentially sanction Cambodia looms, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday insisted that the criticized treason case against opposition leader Kem Sokha could still take months to resolve.
The EU last week gave the Cambodian government its preliminary report on potentially suspending duty-free trade under the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) scheme, demanding “real and credible” improvement in human rights and political issues if it wants to retain the deal.
The EU noted the ongoing case against Sokha as one of its major concerns, and gave the government one month to respond. A final decision is due in February.
Sokha was released from de facto house arrest on Nov. 10, and the investigation into his case closed on Friday, more than two years after his arrest in September 2017. The court prosecution can now request a trial against him for allegedly plotting with the U.S. to overthrow the government.
“Some people said the king will pardon him soon. He hasn’t been tried yet — how could the king pardon [him]?” Hun Sen said at a graduation ceremony on Monday. “There hasn’t been a trial, there is no sentence to be pardoned.”
“The charge won’t be dropped … and the court will hold a trial … it just closed the investigation so the case will proceed to trial and when it does, it’s a matter for the court,” he said.
Hun Sen said Sokha’s case “won’t be done in a day, two days, one or in two months” but will require “a long period of time” to reach its conclusion.
Two months after Sokha’s arrest, his main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved, and 5,007 opposition commune councilors removed from office. The EU is also seeking their reinstatement.
Hun Sen said they would not be getting their jobs back or compensated.
“Some people still think that we will let them become commune chiefs and councilors again and compensate them,” Hun Sen said. “Please work hard on your rice paddies. Don’t run and hit a wall — don’t set your goals too big.”
Cambodia exported about $5.8 billion worth of goods to the EU last year. According to the World Bank, it stands to lose as much as $650 million of the trade if the EBA is suspended.