PHNOM PENH: Prime Minister Hun Sen has backed down from threats to cut off access to Facebook in Cambodia, even as he declared the company's representatives would no longer be welcome in the country.
The announcement late Friday night came after Facebook said it was taking down a video in which Hun Sen threatened political opponents -- and just before campaigning began for elections widely seen a sham after the main opposition was barred from participating.
Earlier in the day, Hun Sen had threatened to block the platform entirely, but later appeared to soften that stance.
"I have no intention to ban Facebook in Cambodia," he said on Telegram, his new platform of choice. "I am not so stupid as to block the breaths of all the people."
Hun Sen did, however, say the social media giant's representatives would "no longer be allowed in Cambodia".
The country's telecommunications ministry later cited "interference in the country's political affairs" as a reason for the move, but did not give details on the number of staff affected.
Meta declined to comment on the matter, or to disclose how many representatives, if any, it had in Cambodia.
In a move characterised by tech experts as a "turning point", Facebook announced Thursday it was removing one of Hun Sen's videos in line with a ruling by the Oversight Board for parent company Meta, which also recommended his Facebook and Instagram accounts be suspended for six months.
In the video, filmed in January, the premier had told opponents they would face legal action or a beating with sticks if they accused his party of vote theft in July's national polls.
The board's ruling said the speech contained "unequivocal statements of intent to commit violence" against opposition politicians.
Hours later, Meta said it would comply with the decision to remove the video and "respond to the board's recommendation on suspending Prime Minister Hun Sen's accounts as soon as we have undertaken that analysis".
Once a prolific Facebook user, Hun Sen had announced he was quitting the platform just hours before it announced it was taking down his video.
After 38 years in power, Hun Sen is among the world's longest-serving leaders and is expected to hand the reins to his eldest son Hun Manet when he retires. On Saturday he kicked off his campaign for re-election in a July 23 poll in which his party faces no serious opposition.
Rights groups accuse Hun Sen of using the legal system to crush any opposition, and scores of political opponents have been convicted during his time in power.
Hun Sen's party won every seat in the 2018 national election after a court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.