Bou Meng wants out.
Wary of becoming a pawn in an increasingly ugly political mudfight, the septuagenarian S-21 survivor said yesterday he didn’t care if acting opposition leader Kem Sokha apologised or not for allegedly denying the existence of the notorious Khmer Rouge prison.
Flanked by supporters, the Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president yesterday held his first press conference since the scandal broke over the weekend.
During the press conference, Sokha reiterated his defence that the short audio recording circulated by the government, in which he is heard suggesting that the crimes at S-21 had been “staged”, had been edited to twist his words, and that even the timeline presented for the speech was preposterous.
“I am being falsely accused of making the alleged S-21 comments on May 18 in Prey Veng province. But in fact, on May 18, I was speaking to thousands of people in Kampong Cham, with no mention of S-21,” Sokha said, adding that he has photographs and voice recordings as well as thousands of witnesses.
For Meng, a man who lived through the horrors of S-21, where more than 12,000 people were tortured and sent to their deaths, the argument has become pointless.
“If [Kem Sokha] said it, he should apologise. But if he didn’t say it, it’s OK.”
His fellow survivor, Chum Mey, chairman of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims, has earlier threatened to sue Sokha if he didn’t apologise in 10 days, a threat Meng is no longer interested in.
“I am determined that I am neutral. I do not side with any party. [On] political issues I do not interfere – let them do it. Politicians have always competed,” he said.
And compete Sokha did yesterday, turning Prime Minister Hun Sen’s proposal to introduce a law criminalising genocide denial back on him, by first agreeing to it, then suggesting further legislative restrictions.
“We should make a law to convict anyone who says if they lose the election there would be a war,” he said, referring to a recent speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“We should make a law to ban whoever used to have a position in the Khmer Rouge regime from holding the position of parliament president, senate president and prime minister.”
National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun rejected Sokha’s proposed laws but said CPP lawmakers were going to unusual lengths to rapidly push the prime minister’s own suggested bill through the house.
“Now, we members of the Cambodian People’s Party, especially senior members, are signing to make a proposal to the parliament president to urge an extraordinary session to pass this law drafted by Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” he said.
Flanking Sokha yesterday were opposition lawmakers Son Chhay and Kong Korn, both on hand to rebut similar attacks that have been made on their alleged passed activities this week.
On Monday, the website of the Commissariat of National Police – acting at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen – posted pictures of Chhay at a function in Toronto with members of the Khmer People’s Power Movement, which the premier has labelled a terrorist organisation.
Chhay, who said he was at the function for a completely different reason and left after the ultra-nationalist KPPM attacked his party, later vented his frustration at the personal attacks’ aim: to distract from the policy debate.
“They display that picture, there are so many pictures all over the place, and that was a cheap trick, a really cheap trick. I know Hun Sen is disgusting, a really dirty man, but I didn’t know he was so cheap,” he said yesterday.
“The Ministry of Interior is supposed to be a national institution that professionally conducts their work, not to put the picture up. It’s shameful, it’s shameful. It’s shameful for [Minister of Interior] Sar Kheng to [do this]. I will see if I can invite him for questioning for that.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak referred questions to National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith, who said he was busy.
Additional reporting by David Boyle