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Hun Sen's Cambodia

Aid to Cambodia tops $20bn, but 'democratic society' still far off

Political repression by strongman Hun Sen puts further support in jeopardy

A supporter of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin wears stickers of the leaders ahead of last month's election.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Cambodia has received $20.68 billion in foreign aid since the early 1990s to build a democratic society following decades of unrest, but this support may be in jeopardy as Prime Minister Hun Sen turns the country into essentially a one-party state.

The aid came to the Southeast Asian nation in the form of grants and loans from donors including individual countries and the European Union as well as international and nongovernmental organizations between 1992 and 2017, according to a committee of the contributing states.

China contributed the most at $3.1 billion, followed by Japan's $2.8 billion and $1.3 billion from the U.S. Japan was the top contributor through the mid-2000s. But China sharply accelerated its support thereafter, and the government of Hun Sen -- who has remained in power since 1985 -- has grown closer to Beijing.

The 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which put an end to 20 years of unrest including the massacre of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge regime and the struggle against de facto control by Vietnam, have served as the foundation for the devastated country's reconstruction. The agreement reached with the United Nations as well as Eastern and Western countries stated that the primary objective of rebuilding should be "full respect for human rights and fundamental freedom for all" Cambodians.

But Hun Sen's administration has raised concerns among international donors on this front, based on its actions since the opposition gained more support in local elections last year.

Cambodian opposition forces, independent media outlets, human rights advocates and NGO members all have faced persecution since last summer. The ruling Cambodian People's Party had no real competition in last month's general election after the country's Supreme Court outlawed the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in November, ordering it to dissolve.

Western countries were quick to condemn the election and the government's crackdown on dissent. Washington and the EU decided against funding the election and threatened sanctions. The U.S. called the election "flawed," while Canada described it as "undemocratic."

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