Prime Minister Hun Sen has apparently signed off on a strategy to recruit spies in the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in a bid to undercut its support ahead of next year’s commune council elections, according to a leaked document from his cabinet.
In a letter dated December 21 and posted today on the antigovernment news blog KI-Media, Ngor Sovann, one of Hun Sen’s advisers, allegedly recorded that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had successfully recruited SRP officials as double agents in Kampot and Takeo provinces.
The letter noted that 16 SRP members had been recruited as spies in Kampot, in exchange for 100,000 riels (US$24.60) and a $5 prepaid phone card per month.
“We were successful in our work in a short period, with the collection and building of 16 forces as secret agents in the commune councils,” Ngor Sovann stated.
He noted, however, that since November, CPP activists had postponed their attempts to woo SRP turncoats in Kampot, saying opposition activists “seemed to suspect” the presence of secret agents.
“We will continue our work persuading [the SRP] when there is an appropriate time, and [we] hope to collect and build more secret agents to help the party’s participation in the  Senate election,” he concluded.
The letter noted that the recruits, who are only contacted by phone, are also provided with health expenses and funds for “holding traditional ceremonies”.
Ngor Sovann stated that 10 such agents had also been recruited in Takeo.
He described how he and several defectors in Samrong district had attempted to win over Prak Savon, a customs official and “former leader” of the SRP in the district, but that the attempts to persuade him were currently “in a difficult situation”.
Ngor Sovann’s letter bears what appears to be Hun Sen’s signature, along with a date (December 22) and the annotation, “Discuss with both provinces to encourage this work to be better. Kampot province is splitting strongly, we must urge the persuasion and make the division bigger.”
Appended to the letter are lists containing the names, titles and telephone numbers of the 26 alleged SRP spies.
The contents of the letter echo comments Hun Sen made in a speech on December 29, when he alleged that he had spies embedded within the SRP who were relaying “secret information” about the party’s activities.
“The person [inside the SRP] who is insulting me more than the others is who is leaking more secret information,” he said.
“There are many Hun Sen spies embedded in the opposition party and if the SRP wants to hide its secrets, it must destroy the entire group.”
Ngor Sovann, a former SRP parliamentarian, was one of several high-profile party officials who defected to the CPP in February 2008, and was awarded with a post as an adviser to Hun Sen. Following the CPP’s landslide victory in the national elections in July, he was given the post of secretary of state in the Ministry of Justice.
When contacted today, Ngor Sovann denied that the letter was authentic, accusing the opposition of fabricating it for political gain.
“I understand that this story is a political tactic of the Sam Rainsy Party. I used to live with that party, and I knew a lot about that party’s ways,” he said.
“There is nothing strange about politicians creating an event and especially having the skill to create the event. It is the skill of the Sam Rainsy Party, especially the individual Mr President Sam Rainsy. I used to live with him for 10 years, and I know clearly.”
Nou Chem, a member of the Samrong district council in Takeo province whose name was listed in the letter to the premier, denied CPP officials had ever tried to persuade him to become a double agent.
Nou Chhun, another district councillor in Samrong listed as a spy for the ruling party, also denied he had taken money from the CPP, professing his loyalty to the opposition.
“I am absolutely with the Sam Rainsy Party,” said Nou Chhun, who said he has been an SRP member since 1998.
“If Sam Rainsy is still alive, I will not defect. If I sold this job I would be insulted.”
However, one SRP deputy commune chief in Kampot province, whose name was listed in the letter, admitted that he had been given a monthly stipend of 100,000 riels in order to inform on his party.
“I have defected to the CPP since October through [an official from] the SRP. He appointed me, he invited me and I followed him. They have helped me with 100 thousand riels per month,” said the official, who declined to be named.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he would not be surprised if the CPP was attempting to sway members of his party with financial incentives.
“Since the SRP was established 15 years ago, the CPP has tried to destroy our party,” he said.
“Some defect to the ruling party because of the money or because of political pressure, but at the end justice will prevail. I think more and more the people understand about democracy. Our popularity is increasing.”
Yim Sovann said the apparent attempt to bribe SRP members showed how much contempt the ruling party had for the principle of democracy.
“If you want society to change to a better way, or if you want society to be clean … we need different ideas and opinions from opposition parties. If you do this, it means you do not want democracy,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he was unaware of any reports of spies inside the party, but dismissed claims the party had fabricated the document.
“We never have any kind of stupid way of creating such problems. Who wants to tell everyone that someone is spying and creating division among us?” Son Chhay said.
“Maybe it’s somebody we don’t know about.”
Son Soubert, a political analyst and former member of the Constitutional Council, said that if true, the CPP’s apparent attempt to buy off its political opponents amounted to a “travesty of democracy”.
He also said it was a tactic that the party used to great effect during the political unrest of 1997-98, when most of the lawmakers from the royalist Funcinpec party were given money to vote against the party’s president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
“To weaken the opposition political parties, or even the partner political parties like Funcinpec, they buy them with money and appointments,” Son Soubert said.
He added that the giving and taking of bribes by politicians does little to help the Cambodian people.
“What does it lead to?” he said of the allegations.
“It doesn’t solve all the problems of Cambodia.”