By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury has imposed sanctions on a businessman and a senior government official with close links to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, accusing them of corruption.
This comes as western countries step up pressure on Hun Sen over a crackdown on the opposition and after the United States expressed concern over Cambodia's military ties with China.
The U.S. Treasury said it had sanctioned Kun Kim, a former joint chief of staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), over his role in a real estate development in Koh Kong province and his relationship with a Chinese state-owned entity that he reaped significant financial benefit from.
"Kim used RCAF soldiers to intimidate, demolish, and clear-out land sought by the (People's Republic of China)-owned entity," the department said in a statement.
"Kun Kim was replaced as RCAF Chief of Staff because Kim had not shared profits from his unlawful businesses with senior Cambodian government officials," it added.
Three members of Kim's family and five entities that are owned or controlled by these individuals were also sanctioned, the department said.
Cambodian tycoon Try Pheap, a member of Hun Sen's ruling party, was also sanctioned for building a large-scale illegal logging consortium with collusion of officials. His 11 Cambodia-registered entities were also sanctioned.
Kun Kim and Try Pheap could not be reached for comment.
It is "very disturbing when public figures of a country become subjects of punitive measures of another country based on groundless accounts and accusations in total disregard of legal and judicial independence of the country", Cambodia's foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
"This is a serious violation of the international principles of sovereign equality and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations as well as other international laws," it added.
The sanctions are an attack on "the ongoing efforts to restore trust and confidence between Cambodia and the United States", the leaders of which have recently exchanged messages https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-usa/in-reversal-cambodias-hun-sen-offers-us-new-bond-of-friendship-idUSKBN1Y110O, the ministry added.
'SUPPORT THEIR PUPPETS'
A spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Senator Sok Eysan, earlier told Reuters that the sanctions were ineffective and only served as support for opposition.
Kun Kim and Try Pheap "don't have assets abroad and if they are stupid to keep assets outside, let them freeze", he said.
The United States "did this just to support their puppets, it's not effective", he said, referring to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party that was dissolved in 2017.
The dissolution paved the way for Hun Sen's party to win all the seats in parliament last year.
The United States has called for the release of detained opposition leader Kem Sokha. It has also voiced concern at reports Cambodia is cooperating with China on a naval base, something Hun Sen has denied.
Cambodia has also come under pressure from the European Union, which is considering the scrapping of trade preferences over Cambodia's crackdown on the opposition.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul, Editing by Lincoln Feast and Himani Sarkar)