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EU calls on Cambodia to reconsider banning main opposition party

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The European Union called on Cambodia’s government on Monday to reconsider its decision to seek the dissolution of the main opposition party after its leader was arrested and charged with treason.

FILE PHOTO - Cambodia's national flags are seen as labourers work at a construction site in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Government lawyers filed a lawsuit on Friday to get the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) dissolved, a move that could leave Prime Minister Hun Sen virtually unchallenged to extend over 32 years in power in an election next year.

Hun Sen’s main rival, CNRP leader Kem Sokha, was arrested on Sept. 3 and accused of plotting to take power with American help.

A statement from the EU delegation in Phnom Penh said the move to get the CNRP dissolved was “very worrying” and such an act would undermine an election process leading up to next year’s general election.

“We urge the government of Cambodia to reconsider,” it said.

The European Union is among the top financial backers of the electoral commission. It has previously called for the release of Kem Sokha, but its appeals have been dismissed by the government.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the call for the dissolution of the CNRP was because the party leadership was suspected of treason.

“If found guilty of treason, no one can stop the process,” he said.

In their lawsuit on Friday, government lawyers said the opposition had conspired with foreigners to topple the government, citing a 2013 video clip that shows Kem Sokha talking about a plan to take power with the help of Americans.

Kem Sokha’s supporters say he was only discussing strategy to win power through elections and not a revolution or coup.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected from the genocidal group and helped drive it from power in 1979, is allied to China, which is by far the biggest donor to and investor in Cambodia.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Alison Williams