Prime Minister Hun Sen appeals to all political parties to respect the right of all citizens to switch their allegiance to any party whose policies differ from their own.

The call comes as some former opposition party members who have joined the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have been accused of “selling their souls”.

Addressing a graduation ceremony for students of the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC) on March 1, he said an NGO youth association which previously supported an unnamed opposition party – and demonstrated against the government – has decided to support the CPP and work with it to further develop the country.

He said members of the association have been insulted by other parties and individuals.

“Let me be clear that these accusations disrespect the political freedoms of the youth. They have clearly realised that they were supporting the opposition party in vain. I met with these youths, and listened closely to them.

“They received training in how to conduct a colour revolution, and realised that they could no longer be involved. They understand that the best way to drive progress is to join the government and support its efforts in the area of environmental protection, rather than joining a foreign organisation. It was entirely their decision, but they were insulted for it and accused of selling their souls,” he said.

“Those of you who claim to support democracy but only accept the views of your own supporters and ignore the opinion of government supporters should not consider yourselves democrats.

“Many of these youths were being used as foreign servants, while their masters accepted money from foreigners who oppose Cambodia, or worse, Khmer who live abroad and seek to bring down the government. I appeal for these young people’s decisions to be respected,” he added.

The premier urged the youth not to respond violently to the insults and accusations which had been cast at them, instead suggesting a more dignified, peaceful response.

“Their accusers should be wary. These young people once demonstrated against the government, so they could do the same to the opposition.

“Thus far, they have not done so and only issued statements in response. Still, I beg the youths – and those who left opposition parties to work with the government – not to react violently and should instead issue statements explaining the situation and not take it any further than that,” he said.

Hun Sen said he regrets that some people have represented themselves as democrats but do not act like ones.

“The CPP would not prevent its members from joining other parties – we have always respected people’s right to make their own choices,” he said.

Candlelight Party (CP) senior official Kong Monika said it was entirely appropriate to show respect for individuals’ choices in a functioning democratic society. But he said he was concerned that some people who had joined the ruling party had attacked their former colleagues.

“If we can eliminate this culture of insults and personal attacks and respect everyone’s right to make their own political choices, it would be excellent. I support the prime minister’s statements, and hope they he will instruct any new members of the CPP not to insult the members of their former party,” he said.

He added that the CP has always respected every citizen’s right to make their own political choices, and adhered to a culture of not attacking and smearing its opponents.

“Those who do so are expressing their own personal opinions, not those of the party. The CP has never attacked anyone who does not support it,” he said.

The National Election Committee (NEC) has called on all political parties to respect the laws, rules and procedures in place, so the upcoming July parliamentary election will be conducted in a free, fair, credible manner and in a peaceful, orderly, non-violent atmosphere.