The honorary president of the CPP-aligned youth group involved in last week’s protest outside parliament, which ended with two opposition lawmakers being savagely beaten, is a deputy commander in the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, the Post has learned.
Three soldiers were charged on Wednesday over the gang-bashing of Cambodia National Rescue Party parliamentarians Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea on October 26, though court officials did not reveal the men’s unit or ranks.
The Bodyguard Unit has continued to deny members of the elite group were involved in the pro-ruling party rally, refuting observers, cited by Human Rights Watch, who reported that its members were spotted in plainclothes among protesters.
Leaders of the 2,000-strong demonstration, which called for CNRP vice president Kem Sokha to be removed as the assembly’s vice president, were pegged as members of the Youth Federation of Senaneak (YFS).
The group’s “honorary president” is Lieutenant General Deang Sarun, a deputy commander in Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit, YFS executive president Pankhem Bunthan said in a recent interview, before then downplaying his group’s role in the protest.
“It was not my Senaneak youth group leading this protest and turning it into violence. We had only 12 to 15 members there,” said Bunthan, who is shown in pictures, circulated on social media, at the front of the crowd of protesters holding a megaphone.
“Our work is non-violent and we work only for humanitarian causes, which are our theme.”
Bunthan denied any of his members were involved in the attack but simply attended the protest to voice their disapproval of Sokha, who days later was removed as deputy vice president by the ruling party.
The ousting followed calls for Sokha’s sacking by Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Kun Kim and other figures in the military, including a squad on the Thai border who protested against Sokha in uniform.
While acknowledging Sarun’s position, Bunthan denied that any of his group’s rank and file had military backgrounds.
“We are involved in social work, helping all kinds of people without political leanings,” he said of the group, created in January.
Sarun, among the military personnel this year added to the CPP’s central committee, could not be reached yesterday, nor could his son Deang Saran, who is a deputy leader of YFS, whose members in June swore an oath of fealty to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Soldiers Sot Vanny, 45, Chhay Sarith, 33, and Mao Hoeung, 34, were on Wednesday provisionally charged with intentional violence for beating Chamroeun and Sakphea.
In photos of the protest circulated online, Hoeung can be seen standing closely behind YFS leaders Bunthan and Saran.
Hoeung was later identified by online activists as the man stomping on Chamroeun’s chest as he lay semiconscious in the street.
The three suspects on Monday surrendered themselves to the special commission investigating the crime, led by CPP central committee member Em Sam An.
Yesterday, when asked whether the men were attached to the Bodyguard Unit, Major General Sok Khemarin, director of the penal police department at the Interior Ministry and one of the eight-man investigative committee, claimed investigators had not even asked the men about their specific ranks or units.
Khemarin said he could only confirm the men worked under the Ministry of Defence.
He added that the body would continue to search for more suspects, with footage showing close to a dozen people assaulting Chamroeun.
Post reporters attempting to visit Vanny’s home near the Bodyguard Unit headquarters in Takhmao town in Kandal province on Wednesday, were directed to another of the unit’s bases nearby for “permission”.
Meanwhile, photos have surfaced online showing Sarith, also of Takhmao town, clad in a Bodyguard Unit uniform.
The unit released a statement this week denying his membership.
Radio Free Asia also spoke to a truck driver from Takhmao town who claims he was paid to transport men from the Bodyguard Unit base to the protests.
Yesterday, General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, declined to answer questions, passing the phone to an assistant who claimed his boss was in a meeting.