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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lon Phon abduction 'a government trick'

Lon Phon abduction 'a government trick'

Lon Phon abduction 'a government trick'

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lonpon.jpg

RESPONSIBILITY for the abduction of Sam Rainsy Party MP Lon Phon is being directed

squarely at the government by both SRP officials and the victim himself.

Lon Phon safely returned to his home in Phnom Penh

Phon was kidnapped on Oct 7 by four men in military uniforms packing pistols and

AK-47s.

Phon was released unharmed on the evening of Oct 9 after the payment of a $140,000

ransom, of which $100,000 was provided to Phon's family as a "personal loan"

from Kem Sokhavy, wife of Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

Although government officials, including Hun Sen and Khieu Sopheak, derided allegations

that Phon's abduction was politically motivated, in an Oct 11 interview with the

Post SRP Secretary General Eng Chhai Eang insisted that the kidnapping was "an

intimidation trick" by the ruling CPP.

Eang lists "inconsistencies" in the official version of Phon's kidnapping

and subsequent release that indicate what he perceives as official collusion in the

crime.

"The police were involved with [the abduction] all the way," Eang said.

"They could have arrested [the kidnappers] when they came to pick up the ransom

... if they were real kidnappers they could not have escaped."

Eang describes Phon's abduction as a "test" by the government to see how

much intimidation they could bring to bear on the SRP without raising concerns in

the international community.

"I think originally [the government] wanted to arrest or even murder [Phon],

but after the expressions of international concern, [the authorities] decided to

call [Phon's abduction] a kidnapping," Eang said. "This was a test by the

government to measure the international community's reaction to intimidation [of

the political opposition]."

Eang's assertions were echoed by SRP MP Son Chhay: "I continue to feel that

[Phon's abduction] was part of political intimidation of the Sam Rainsy Party."

While Phon refused to directly implicate the government for his abduction, he insisted

that the government must ultimately bear responsibility for the safety and security

of all National Assembly members.

"It's not for me to say that [my abduction] was part of a government plot, but

the government has a duty to protect all National Assembly members," Phon said.

"All international observers as well as the United Nations should regard [my

abduction] as political in nature."

According to Eang, however, the actions of Khieu Sopheak's wife in arranging a $100,000

loan for Phon's abduction indicated that she had intimate knowledge of the kidnappers

plans.

"Originally the kidnappers asked for a $350,000 ransom, but after the [$100,000]

loan was discussed with Phon's family, the kidnappers suddenly dropped their ransom

demand to $180,000," Eang said. The kidnappers eventually settled on a ransom

of $140,000.

"This was very, very strange," Eang said. "How could [Kem Sokhavy]

have known the kidnappers would reduce the amount of their ransom demand?"

Eang claimed that the ultimate intent of Phon's abduction was to erode the SRP's

supporter base by making association with the party look "dangerous".

"The government used Phon's abduction to give a message to wealthy people who

are considering joining the opposition parties," Eang said.

Phon's abduction follows a series of allegations of intimidation of SRP supporters

in Phon's electoral district of Battambang, culminating in the arrests last month

of SRP activists Kung Bun Heang and Mong Davuth in connection with the Sep 1998 rocket

attack on Prime Minister Hun Sen's motorcade in Siem Reap.

According to Eang, official moves against the SRP continue, with activists being

promised "rewards" by unnamed government officials in return for removing

SRP signs from the outside of their homes.

While insisting that his political activities will continue unabated, Phon rests

uneasily at home nursing a head wound that resulted from a blow from a kidnapper's

gun butt.

"I will do everything in my power to help the people who elected me," Phon

said, glancing nervously at the large, private bodyguard hovering behind him. "But

I'm worried about my family."

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