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Thank you very much, Mr President,
Last week, indeed, it was a very sad week for Cambodia's fragile democracy; a sad week for the freedom of the press, as many of you said; a sad week for the people of Cambodia.
The arrest of the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, on 3 September, and the closure of The Cambodia Daily the day after, add to a long list of very serious developments in the country. These include continued restrictions on the freedom of expression, the closure of radio stations, arrests of members of the main opposition party (CNRP) and civil society actors.
It is clear that this is a dangerous political escalation. These events suggest a further effort to restrict the space for democratic debate, independent media and civil society ahead of next year's general elections.
The continued use of judicial processes against opposition politicians and NGO figures is widely seen as politically motivated.
On our side, as you know, as you have noticed and also recognised, the European Union has called on the authorities to release Kem Sokha immediately.
Earlier this year, we had already made our voice heard very clearly when Cambodia amended the Law on Political Parties twice, to introduce provisions that would potentially allow for arbitrary dissolution of political parties. Such actions against opposition parties would cast a shadow on the July 2018 elections and ultimately call into question the very legitimacy of the vote.
On the elections, you know that the European Union has provided support worth €10 million to the electoral reform, primarily through an improved voter registration process. We have worked closely with the Cambodian national election committee in support of electoral reform, mainly through an improved voter registration process.
Our support has also included technical support on legal and civic education aspects and support to domestic election observation and election-related violence monitoring.
We will monitor closely the update on the voters list that began on 1 September. And we also deployed an EU Election Expert Mission to Cambodia to follow the local elections last June. The EU Delegation, to which some of you have referred, in close coordination with the EU embassies and the like-minded members of the international community, sent diplomatic observers to polling stations on the election day.
We have continuously urged the Cambodian authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure conditions for credible, transparent and inclusive elections whose results will command the confidence of Cambodia's voters.
The EU has also expressed deep concern about the adoption by the Cambodian parliament of amendments, as I said, to the law on political parties and I have heard your considerations on the possibility to send a full-fledged EU Election Observation Mission for the next political elections. If the political situation is conducive to a credible election process and if invited by the government, the European Union would be ready to consider the deployment of an EU Election Observation Mission for the national elections due to be held in July next year. Political developments in the coming weeks and months will be, I believe, a key factor in assessing our possible deployment.
The European Union and its Member States - on another issue that is also important - have been proud to support the reconstruction and the development of the country from the very beginning. We have an important envelope of development cooperation with Cambodia that is embedded in a multi-annual cooperation programme for the period 2014-2020. All our programmes are implemented, subject to close monitoring and on the basis of political and policy dialogue with the government. The respect of human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law are fundamental elements in our development policy and they are closely monitored in this context.
Our development cooperation with Cambodia is long-term and I have to tell you very clearly: any consideration regarding the possible suspension of cooperation would have to be carefully evaluated in terms of its impact, especially on the poor and vulnerable population, on peoples' livelihoods and on better access of children to schools that are the first priority we have in helping the Cambodian people.
A large part of Cambodia's population is still very vulnerable and we will continue to closely monitor the situation and to use our development cooperation to improve the situation of the population.
Cambodia has also been granted access to the European markets under the "Everything But Arms" scheme, which has served as an important driver of the country's economic growth and - you might be surprised but despite our geographical distance - the European Union is today Cambodia's biggest export market.
But we also believe that, as I said, there can be no sustainable development with no human rights and with no democratic guarantees. So, we are using and will continue to use all the available channels to ask and work for a substantial change in the current political trends.
The European Union is ready to continue to work with Cambodia towards a consolidation of its democracy and an equitable economic growth. But we look to the authorities of the country to take all necessary steps to ensure that all political parties, civil society and the media can carry out their activities without fear as it should be the case in any functioning democracy.
Link to the video (debate): http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I143278