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Officials deny Berlin cancelled preferential visa treatment

Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at the annual meeting of the Interior Ministry’s prison department yesterday, where he challenged The Post’s reports of the German response to Cambodia’s political crackdown.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at the annual meeting of the Interior Ministry’s prison department yesterday, where he challenged The Post’s reports of the German response to Cambodia’s political crackdown. Pha Lina

Officials deny Berlin cancelled preferential visa treatment

Officials from several ministries challenged the veracity of an article published on Monday by The Post revealing that Germany had cancelled preferential treatment for private travel by high-ranking government officials, though documents from a parliamentary inquiry in Germany explicitly state such an action was taken.

The document, which details a response to an inquiry on Cambodia, says preferential visas for private travel were suspended by the German government, “including [travel] by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family, by high-ranking military officials and the presidents of the highest Cambodian court”.

In a press conference yesterday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng incorrectly claimed it had been reported that all officials were banned from visiting the country. “But there is news that this is fake news, and it was not true according to the latest information I received. It was not the German government and we continue to investigate it,” he said.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, posted in a group chat yesterday parts of an email supposedly from Gunther Mull, the managing director of German biometrics company Dermalog.

“After contacting the relevant authorities in Germany, they clarified clearly that the article was created only by opposition party, and the meaning of this article is not reasonable and not true,” read excerpts of the email, posted in Khmer by Sopheak. “I can currently 100 percent say that all Cambodian civil servants are welcomed by Germany.”

The email then goes on to clarify that accelerated visas could be obtained for official visits of government members, or upon invitation of Mull’s company. “I can say that this article is not true and just seems fabricated by the opposition party,” the excerpts read.

Reached yesterday, a Dermalog employee said Mull was busy in meetings. According to Facebook posts, Mull has previously worked with the National Election Commitee.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Left: Front page of the response to a German parliamentary request signed by Walter J Lindner, German Secretary of State; Right: Passage highlighting the withdrawal of preferential treatment for the issuing of visa for private travels by high-ranking government officials, stating (highlighted passage): Does the Federal Government, with regards to the increasing state repression of press and political opposition, advocate within the EU for targeted sanctions against Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, his family, and the politically responsible leaders of the country, and to what extent does it advocate amongst European Partners for such measures (please specify measure and group of persons)? Government response: Bilaterally, the Federal Government has withdrawn the alleviation and preferential treatments for the issuing of visas for private travel by government members, including by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family, by high-ranking military officials and the president of the highest Cambodian court. It advocated for similar measures of partners in the EU-group.”

Click to see the full document (German language)

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry also lashed out at the story via government mouthpiece Fresh News. But in an interview with The Post yesterday, he did not directly dispute the accuracy of the report, saying only that journalists should be more “cautious”.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has never been informed of what you have reported in the above quotation,” he said. “My frank reaction to your report is [that] you should be more cautious when reporting [on a] sensitive issue, especially without providing document/reference to back your report.”

He did not respond to an offer to provide the German government’s written account of the parliamentary inquiry.

Frithjof Schmidt, who led the drafting of the parliamentary request, yesterday confirmed the authenticity of the document and measures taken.

“The federal government [of Germany] confirmed in its response to my political faction that it cancelled the alleviation and preferential treatment for the issuing of visa to Cambodian government members,” he said.

“Instead of denying that there has been a German reaction to the restrictions of democratic rights in Cambodia, the Cambodian government should focus on the reasons for this reaction. The federal government has made clear that the dismantling of democracy and human rights in Cambodia cannot remain without consequences. I explicitly welcome this.”

The German Embassy in Phnom Penh directed questions to the German Foreign Affairs Ministry, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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