Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday warned of nationwide mass demonstrations if acting opposition leader Kem Sokha does not apologise over the genocide denial scandal.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president first came under fire just over a week after a government commentator released an audio clip on May 20 in which Sokha is heard in a short sound bite saying the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng interrogation facility was a myth staged by the Vietnamese.
Sokha, who flew to the US yesterday for a CNRP fundraiser, has vehemently denied he made any such assertion, insisting the tapes were misleadingly edited from a public forum recorded long before his alleged speech, and has flatly refused to apologise.
Speaking at the inauguration of a pagoda in Kampong Cham district’s Tbong Khmum district, Hun Sen said the temperature was “heating” between Sokha and the public, warning that S-21 survivor Chum Mey only had to “ring the bell” to kick off demonstrations everywhere.
“The mass demonstration will occur not only in Phnom Penh but nationwide. A demonstration will happen everywhere he goes,” the premier said, adding any such demonstration should be non-violent and orderly.
Not even “Hollywood” could have twisted the recording, Hun Sen insisted, while chiding Sokha for insulting millions of survivors who were persecuted and declaring the issue was between them and Sokha, not himself.
“If this individual leader of a political party will not apologise to the people in public, the political heat will be serious,” he said. “The demonstrations will occur everywhere, and now it is waiting for Chum Mey to ring the bell,” he said.
On Saturday, Chum Mey, the chairman of the Victims Association of Democratic Kampuchea, gave Sokha 10 days to apologise or face legal action.
Fellow Tuol Sleng survivor Bou Meng on Wednesday told the Post that the matter was a dispute between political parties and wanted to remain neutral.
Yesterday, Mey warned if his deadline was not met, people everywhere would join demonstrations based on his appeals.
“There are 1,700 members within my association that are victims of the Khmer Rouge, but I will not force them to attend to demonstrate,” he said.
“If he comes here to apologise, he will no longer have a problem and the demonstration against him will not happen.”
That seems unlikely. CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday Sokha’s position on the matter was cut and dry.
“Mr Kem Sokha did not do anything wrong so he did not apologise because everything the CPP has made is fabricated, manipulated. He has stated quite clearly already that he did not do anything wrong,” he said. “I’m not worried at all, because it is their right to organise any demonstration if they respect the law, but if they do not want to create any problem, it should be enough that he made the clarification already.”
Observers are divided on whether they think Sokha’s words were manipulated, and with the CNRP still unable to locate what they claim was the full speech his words were misleadingly edited from, the matter has been left to speculation.
Political analyst Kem Ley said yesterday he was not convinced by Sokha’s explanation that he had really been saying the Khmer Rouge had “staged” evidence at Tuol Sleng to convict innocent people.
“Even when he organised the press conference yesterday, I listened, but his original words [he] cannot escape, except when he can explain clearly to the public,” he said.
Ley implored Sokha to apologise so an incident distracting people from the real issues heading into the national election in July could be put to bed.
Whether or not Sokha was guilty of making the remarks should not just be left up to the court of public opinion, another political analyst, Lao Mong Hay, cautioned.
“The parliament could set up an ad-hoc committee to find out what Kem Sokha has actually said. There are bound to be witnesses because he was not making that statement in a vacuum. It would be about the witnesses, what they heard,” he suggested.