WASHINGTON (AP) — Cambodia has suspended international military cooperation programs with the United States and others following that country’s recent, disputed election, the State Department said Monday.
The reason for Cambodia’s action was not immediately clear. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that Cambodia’s Defense Ministry has postponed or canceled a number of programs. She provided no details.
It could be a pre-emptive move after U.S. lawmakers called for cuts in direct aid to Cambodia’s government if the vote was not free and fair. But Harf said the U.S. does not regard this as a suspension of overall military ties.
“We haven’t indicated that’s something we want,” Harf said. “We are going to keep watching the process as it unfolds and see where it goes from here.”
Longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party won the July 28 vote, but with a sharply reduced majority, according to unratified results announced Monday that are contested by the opposition. It has threatened mass protests unless there’s an independent investigation of the election process.
The State Department has expressed concerns about reported election irregularities and has called for them to be investigated fully and transparently.
The Cambodian government has deployed extra troops and armored vehicles in the capital, Phnom Penh, because of the opposition’s warning it could take to the streets. The tough reputation of Hun Sen, who has ruled for 28 years, has raised concerns he might use force against protesters.
Navuth Koeut, the defense attache at Cambodia’s embassy in Washington, said he could not comment about any suspension in military cooperation programs as he has not received information from Phnom Penh about it.
U.S. military assistance on maritime security, counterterrorism and humanitarian operations makes up a small portion of the more than $70 million in annual American aid to Cambodia but reflects Washington’s attempts to build bridges with a Southeast Asian government which counts China as its main benefactor.
Military cooperation has been on the uptick since 2006 and includes training for Cambodian officers and periodic military exercises. One of Hun Sen’s sons was trained at West Point.
Human Rights Watch has been pushing for the U.S. to sever military ties, arguing that Cambodia’s armed forces are corrupt, politicized and implicated in rights abuses.