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EU threatens Cambodia with sanctions over election purge

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union threatened Cambodia with economic sanctions on Monday after the country’s ruling party said it had won every seat in a Senate election in which many opposition supporters were stripped of their right to vote.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement they were considering “specific targeted measures” against Cambodia, which diplomats said was a warning to long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen that senior government officials could face sanctions.

The bloc said it was also reviewing the preferential trade treatment it gives Cambodia because of what rights groups and opposition politicians say is a crackdown by the premier, in power for 30 years, ahead of a national election in July.

“The Council urges Cambodia to restore democracy,” EU foreign ministers said, referring to the name of their formal grouping in Brussels. “In view of recent developments, the Council may consider specific targeted measures if the situation does not improve,” the statement said.

It said the EU would step up its monitoring of its “everything but arms” trade arrangement with Cambodia that allows the Southeast Asian country to export goods, including clothing and textiles, free of tariffs into the bloc, a market of some 500 million people.

Cambodia’s main opposition National Rescue Party was dissolved by a court last November at the government’s request, and the CNRP says authorities subsequently stripped 5,062 of its commune councillors and lawmakers of their voting rights.

The dissolution was followed by the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with U.S. help, an accusation both the United States and Kem Sokha have rejected.

Preliminary results published by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) at the weekend showed it had won 58 seats on the 62-seat Senate, leaving the other three political parties with nothing.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Mark Heinrich