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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Verdict due for bodyguard unit members charged in beating of MPs

Sot Vanny (centre) arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this month for questioning about his involvement in an attack on opposition lawmakers in October.
Sot Vanny (centre) arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this month for questioning about his involvement in an attack on opposition lawmakers in October. Pha Lina

Verdict due for bodyguard unit members charged in beating of MPs

With verdicts due today for three soldiers who admitted beating up two opposition lawmakers outside parliament last year, military sources have told Human Rights Watch they suspect the government has limited the case to the trio to protect the senior military and political officials who organised the attack.

The allegations by the senior military officials, who are not named, are included in a 63-page report by the rights group released yesterday, which adds more material to a substantial body of evidence suggesting the October 26 assault was planned and executed by the prime minister’s personal Bodyguard Unit.

The report – citing military sources – says that prior to the attack, Hun Sen and his “top security force commanders” had set a deadline for the Cambodia National Rescue Party to cease “plotting a colour revolution”, which had become its characterisation of the opposition’s behaviour.

“According to these sources, Hun Sen set a deadline of late October for the CNRP to cease such plotting, saying that unless it did, suppressive action would be taken,” it states. “The events of October 26, 2015, have proved to be the first in such a series of actions.”

Three members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit – Mao Hoeung, 34, Sot Vanny, 45, and Chhay Sarith, 33 – have been charged with intentional violence and property damage over the assault.

Their verdict is due today at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

The trio has confessed to beating Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea but claim they were not under orders but rather provoked when the victims insulted them, a version of events denied by the lawmakers and not supported by video evidence, the report notes.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has repeatedly denied orchestrating the assault, which occurred after a mass pro-CPP rally against opposition leader Kem Sokha, which Hun Sen had alluded to the night before it happened.

Reached yesterday, Commander of the Bodyguard Unit Lieutenant General Hin Bun Heang – a longtime Hun Sen loyalist – denied his elite corp had carried out the attack, as suggested by the report.

“Who said that? Don’t just say something which is untrue. Are [those levelling the accusations] crazy or not,” he said, before hanging up.

Yesterday, the Council of Minister’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Tith Sothea called the report unsubstantiated “slander”. “The truth and evidence was revealed by those who confessed in court,” Sothea said.

However, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces sources spoken to by HRW say that “within government circles” it is “widely believed” the case has focused on the trio to shield senior officials who organised the attack.

“From start to finish, the October 26 assault had all the hallmarks of an operation carried out by Cambodian state security forces,” states the report, which calls for international donors to pressure the government to make more arrests.

At least 16 men can be seen in video footage taking part in the attack.

The report cites an unnamed judicial official arguing that the case had been restricted to speed up the trial.

This allowed judges to deem questions of higher-level involvement out of the case’s scope, the report notes.

The Post has previously reported that soldiers involved in the attack had travelled to the National Assembly from a Bodyguard Unit base in Kandal province run by Deputy Bodyguard Commander Lieutenant General Deang Sarun, who was unreachable yesterday.

Sarun – chairman of the youth group that led the anti-Sokha rally – is a “principle commander” of the premier’s bodyguards, the report states, adding that the youth group’s vice presidents include Sarun’s son and the daughter of Anti-Corruption Unit President Om Yentieng.

It also mentions Sarun was an assistant of four-star general and close Hun Sen ally Kun Kim, who is described in the report as the premier’s “hatchet man”. Kim was also unreachable yesterday, as was a Defence Ministry spokesman.

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