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Former Cambodia National Rescue Party adviser Lak Sopheap
Former Cambodia National Rescue Party adviser Lak Sopheap hands out fliers in Phnom Penh yesterday morning while protesting. Vireak Mai

Protest disastrous for ex-aide

A protest against her dismissal from the opposition party backfired on Lak Sopheap yesterday as counter-protesters demanded she settle outstanding “debts” and some of her own supporters admitted not knowing why they were protesting.

Sopheap was fired from her position as an assistant to Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha on Tuesday after alleging last week that Sokha had accused party leader Sam Rainsy of accepting $20 million to negotiate with Prime Minister Hun Sen during the political deadlock earlier this year.

After vowing on Wednesday to bring up to 300 people to the CNRP’s headquarters to protest against her dismissal, Sopheap was instead confronted by an angry mob. A violent clash came close to erupting as people confronted the fired assistant over money she allegedly owes them.

Among them, well-known CNRP-aligned pop singer Sophoan Lary was one who got up in Sopheap’s face.

“My older sister will arrive here soon,” he said. “[Sopheap] has borrowed $300 from her and now says she has no money to pay her back.”

Others in the crowd hurled allegations and insults at Sopheap. One irate owner of a nearby café accused her of failing to settle a bill.

“You owe me 1,000 riel [$0.25 cents] for a coffee,” the man shouted.

But Sopheap denied the accusations.

“I did not borrow from anyone,” she said. “Don’t make worthless allegations like this or I will sue.”

Appearing overwhelmed and realising the numbers were against her, Sopheap tried to shake off the crowd, who briefly gave chase as she climbed into a tuk-tuk and fled.

Of the scores of people gathered outside the CNRP’s headquarters, only about 10 seemed to be supporting Sopheap. And some of those were confused as to why they were there.

“I was told to come to protest about voting,” said a man from Kampong Speu province who declined to be named.

A few other women who came with Sopheap said they did not know what was going on and said they had been invited to collect money.

But Sopheap did have some real support.

“I came here wanting to know what the dismissal is really all about,” said Ty Khea Yuk, 64. “I want to know why.”

Ou Chanrith, head of the CNRP’s disciplinary committee who terminated Sopheap’s employment and party membership after she failed to substantiate her allegations, said yesterday’s incident was largely over “private individual” business.

Sopheap, he added, had the right to protest her expulsion from the party in writing.

Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator for human-rights group Adhoc, said the CNRP should have spoken with Sopheap inside to defuse tensions.

“We have advised her to leave because of how tense things are here . . . we do not know where some of these people have come from,” he said.

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