A total of 116 civil society organizations in Cambodia have urged the Swedish government to reverse the decision made in November to move its embassy to Thailand.
The groups of local and international NGOs, associations, worker unions, and some international groups and donors have composed a letter to Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde asking her to “not abandon” the work done by Sweden to advance “Cambodia’s democratic governance and rule of law.”
The letter reads, “This was a necessary precondition to assist the Cambodian people to progress to where we are today – we are grateful for your support”. The letter also specified Sweden’s value-driven approach, which the groups said had garnered the Scandinavian country “tremendous soft power.”
Last month the Swedish government announced the planned closure of its embassy in Phnom Penh. The Swedish Foreign Ministry said the embassy would be closed at the end of 2021 and its diplomatic presence in Bangkok would be given additional responsibility for Cambodia. The Swedish Government maintained that the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency will continue its work in Cambodia but that the Swedish Foreign Ministry was adapting to external changes, new monitoring and service requirements and therefore there would be new ways to continue the bilateral engagement.
Some observers however said at the time that the move was linked to Sweden’s decision in June to cease bilateral aid on account of Cambodia’s failing human rights situation.
Sweden has been a vocal critic of the Cambodian government’s ongoing crackdown since 2017, including the dissolution of the primary opposition party, forced closure of independent news organizations, and the targeting of non-governmental organizations.
Ou Virak, the president of the Future Forum think tank, said the decision to close the Swedish embassy in Cambodia was taken after political calculations, which were yet to be revealed by the Swedish government. He continued saying: “In our experience, when a country closes their embassy and moves to another country, the relation between countries will become less and less and then it becomes even more silent”.
Country director for Oxfam in Cambodia Solinn Lim said that Sweden had played an important role in contributing to Cambodia’s social and democratic development. She said that it is a great loss for Cambodia without the presence of the Swedish Embassy and that she hopes Sweden will not abandon the long path that they have contributed to in development with Cambodians.