Cambodian PM says those seeking 'regime change' risk return to war

FILE PHOTO: President of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony to mark the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the party in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose government is accused of suppressing human rights, said on Thursday that foreigners were risking returning his country to war through what he called stirring up turmoil and seeking regime change.

Hun Sen, who has led Cambodia since 1985, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that many decades of war, including the “Killing fields” of the 1970s, had taught Cambodia that it had to maintain social stability at any cost.

Democracy without the rule of law would lead to anarchy, he said.

U.N. experts have accused his government of trying to silence dissent, while the European Union has begun removing preferential trading rights over Cambodia’s record on human rights and democracy, following an election a year ago that gave Hun Sen’s party all parliamentary seats.

Hun Sen said all actors in the democratic process should act responsibly, adding they should “provide constructive criticism, do not incite and create hatred between races, do not submit to foreign interests, especially do not sow hatred between Khmer and Khmer, that can lead to return of civil war”.

Cambodia had risen from poverty to becoming a lower middle income country, and it aimed to graduate to the upper middle income by 2030 and high income by 2050, he said. But some groups and institutions maintained “a single political agenda of regime change at any cost”, Hun Sen added.

“They always accuse the royal government of Cambodia of violating human rights in Cambodia even though human rights workers in their own countries are filled with xenophobia, racial discrimination, and mistreatment of immigrants.”

Without naming his critics, he said they sought to hinder Cambodia’s development and damage its reputation.

“Worse than this, some of those countries have taken matters related to human rights as a hostage while discussing assistance or economic preferential treatment extended to Cambodia,” he said.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Frances Kerry