Crisis-hit Cambodia at a ‘crossroads’: UN envoy

Cambodia stands at “a crucial crossroads” following a bloody crackdown by security forces on street protests, a UN envoy said Thursday, urging political leaders to return to the negotiating table.

Surya Subedi, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, said politicians on both sides of the kingdom’s deep political divide should “embrace change”.

“It is imperative for the leaders to overcome the mistrust and immediately return to the negotiating table without further delay,” he told reporters during a fact-finding visit to the country.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for nearly three decades, has faced accusations of excessive force against striking garment factory workers seeking higher wages as well as opposition demonstrators who allege vote-rigging in elections last July.

Earlier this month police opened fire on striking garment factory employees demanding a minimum wage of $160 per month for their work in an industry which supplies brands including Gap, Nike and H&M, killing at least four civilians.

Security personnel armed with shields and batons also chased opposition protesters — including monks, women and children — from their rally base in a park in Phnom Penh.

“Change is coming to Cambodia faster than many had anticipated,” Subedi said.

“The challenge for the current political leadership within both of the main political parties is to embrace change and to find a way to manage it in the best interests of the country,” he said.

He urged the government to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the protest crackdown, saying the measures taken did not seem to respect international laws.

The government says the recent rallies were illegal and has indefinitely banned opposition demonstrations in the capital.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has boycotted parliament since the July polls.

Hun Sen reiterated Tuesday that he would not resign, and told the opposition party to wait for the next election in five years’ time.

The 61-year-old premier, who has vowed to stay in power until he is 74, has faced mounting criticism over his human rights record.