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Tussle over Bayon comment

Son Soubert, the president of the Son Sann Foundation, has threatened popular news anchor Soy Sopheap with legal action if he does not retract comments to the effect that Son Sann – Son Soubert’s father and a leading nationalist figure – sold land to Thailand in concert with former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan.

In a statement on Monday, Son Soubert said the comments, allegedly made during a broadcast on Bayon TV on Friday, were potentially defamatory.

“I therefore challenge Mr Soy Sopheap to produce evidence and to retract what he has falsely declared, or otherwise face legal actions for defamation,” Son Soubert wrote.

In 1978, Son Sann, who died in 2000, formed the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front  to unite anti-communist refugees along the Thai-Cambodian border following the 1979 overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The Cold War calculus of the age, however, made strange associations. In June 1982, Son Sann entered into a coalition – the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea – with the royalist Funcinpec and remnants of the Khmer Rouge, an association that still prompts controversy.

But Son Soubert wrote that Soy Sopheap’s accusation not only affected Son Sann’s reputation but has also besmirched the reputation of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, the founder of Funcinpec.

“This gratuitous, grave and unfounded accusation goes as far as involving the reputation of His Majesty the King Father and that of Samdech Son Sann, recognised by the great majority of the Member States of the United Nations as the sole legitimate government,” the statement read.

“I have duty to condemn with extreme severity, the unfounded and gratuitous assertion unworthy of a real, genuine and conscientious journalist, [because of] his declaration accusing Samdech Bovor Setha Thipdei Son Sann of selling the land to the Thais with Mr Khieu Samphan in a signed document,” the statement read.

When contacted yesterday, Soy Sopheap dismissed the allegations, saying he has never accused Son Sann of selling land to the Thais. He said the comments were quotes from former leaders living along the Cambodian-Thai border.

“The words I said are the words that I quoted from the former leaders along the border. If they told me a lie, I followed what they said,” Soy Sopheap said.

“I have not accused anyone – I have quoted what they told me. Grandfather Son Sann, I have always valued him.”

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