A former soldier being hunted by the military for calling on security forces to be ready to move against the government said yesterday that he was not calling for a coup, but wanted people to “stand up” against Cambodia leaders by peaceful means.
In a video posted online on July 17, Som Sovanara called on military forces to be ready to “go against the authoritarian leadership of the CPP, Hun Sen and Yuon communists”, using a word for the Vietnamese some consider derogatory.
However, speaking via telephone yesterday from Canada, where he received asylum after fleeing Cambodia in 2013, Som Sovanara slammed what he called the country’s “dictatorship” but insisted he didn’t advocate violence.
“My video clip does not mean I called for a coup or want a coup, but I want the country to have real democracy and peace,” Sovanara said, adding he was not in touch with any current military personnel.
The activist, who is also a member of the Denmark-based Khmer National Liberation Front, said he previously belonged to the Royal Cambodian Armed Force’s Intervention Division Three, a mobile force based in Preah Vihear that is sponsored by the prime minister’s cabinet and commanded by Lieutenant General Srey Deuk.
After serving in the military between 2007 and 2010, Sovanara said he fled the country in 2013 after receiving “threats and intimidation”.
“After I realized my life was at stake, I escaped through the refugee asylum of the UN. I knew many military officials and they are not happy with the government,” he said.
Lieutenant General Srey Deuk Commander of the division declined to comment yesterday, saying he was in a meeting. RCAF infantry spokesman Mao Phalla referred questions to Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat, who was unreachable yesterday but on Wednesday said the man had been identified and the military was investigating.
Yesterday, president of the KNLF Sam Serey reiterated the previous statement by the party – which has been branded a “terrorist” group by the government – saying Sovanara was free to express his views.
“The KNLF is an advocacy group which has been officially registered in Denmark and we have been working peacefully according to international law, the Paris Peace Agreement and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Serey, who claimed the KNLF has 6,000 members in Cambodia.
“Therefore, Sovanara ex-pressed his personal opinion on the situation in Cambodia and called for support from Khmer people. He has the right to do that.”
In 2014, 13 people involved with Khmer National Liberation Front were sentenced to between seven and eight years in jail for an alleged plot to overthrow the government. However, six of the suspects, including Serey, were tried in absentia.