Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated his stance that he would not accept an apology from Chea Poch, a permanent member of the Candlelight Party (CP), following a 22-second audio message from Poch that claimed he had been attempting to depose Hun Sen since he was 19 years of age.

However, it appears that there may still be a way to resolve the dispute.

Hun Sen rejected the second attempted apology from Poch in a May 23 social media post.

“For me, an apology cannot be enough, as Poch is a person who cannot be trusted,” he said.

Earlier that day, Poch sent his second apology from Australia, where he is undergoing heart treatment.

“My words in the audio message were ill-considered, and seriously damaged the reputation of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is the hero who brought peace and development to the country and its people,” said the letter.

“I have learned that the prime minister is a man of virtue, who forgives those who have done him wrong, if they acknowledge their mistakes and promise to correct their behaviour. Today, I would like to apologise publically for all of the comments I have made at his expense,” it added.

Hun Sen rejected the apology.

“My children and I, as well as other officials, have treated you well for four years, but we have become targets that you want to depose, due to the calls of a ‘three generation traitor’,” he said.

“Think of yourself. I cannot let a person like you challenge me at the behest of the traitor,” he added, presumably in reference to self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Hun Sen hinted that there was a way out for Poch, but warned that there would be no clemency for those who chose to stand with the traitor.

“Any individual who declares that they have ended their association with the three generation traitor will receive a pardon and clemency,” he said.

‘Serious mistake’

The controversy stemmed from a 22 second voice message from Poch, which was reported on May 13 by Fresh News.

“Since I entered politics at 19, many of my colleagues and leaders have died. Because of this pain, and how seriously they have mistreated us, we know our goal. To be frank, my goal is to oust Hun Sen,” said the message.

Chea Poch shared a photo of himself sitting in a wheelchair on May 15. CHEA POCH VIA FB

Poch, who was receiving heart treatment in Thailand when the story broke, published an open letter on May 15, in which he denied the report, suggesting than the voice message had been “doctored”.

He also apologised for his conduct, and noted that his words may have caused offence to the prime minister. The apology was rejected, with Hun Sen saying the letter was prepared by a CP member named Seng Mady.

Hun Sen also called the CP to clarify the nature of the open letter.

On May 22, the party sent a letter of clarification, saying that the party had not been involved in Poch’s letter and was not responsible for any letters or documents issued by individuals.

“The CP, a democratic party, respects the rights and decisions of party official at all levels without the principle of forcing or ordering party officials to do anything contrary to their own intentions or will,” it said.

“The party adheres to the principles of non-violence and peace in political activities in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution and other laws in force, especially laws pertaining to political parties,” it added.

Later that same day, Hun Sen announced that he had accepted the CP’s response and ended the case.

“I accept the CP’s clarification statement of May 22. I do not want this to be a long, drawn out affair, even though I understand clearly who ordered the letter and the relationship between those in Phnom Penh and those in Bangkok, Thailand,” he said in a social media post.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said on May 23 that close examination of past messages and statements by CP members, including that of Poch, indicated that the CP seem to lack of discipline and order, and were likely to succumb to opportunism, as “when Poch made this serious mistake, the party distanced itself from him”.

“On the other hand, if the letter had benefitted the party, would they have claimed the benefits? This could endanger the CP’s members and activists, because they have no clear position. This would come to light if they were leading the Kingdom,” he added.

On May 21, Hun Sen gave Poch until May 30 to resolve the issue, saying that his legal team were prepared to take court action if an acceptable settlement could not be reached.