Observers yesterday slammed the alleged involvement of the prime minister’s second son and intelligence chief Hun Manith in plans to discredit opposition leader Kem Sokha, condemnation which differed starkly from responses by officials, who cast it as a private matter of little consequence.
Manith, a major general, allegedly corresponded with social media star Thy Sovantha about plans to undermine the Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president over an alleged affair, according to leaked phone messages featured in a YouTube clip.
The exchanges, which one ruling party official has suggested appear real, purport to show Manith encouraging a campaign against Sokha by Sovantha, a 21-year-old former opposition activist who fell out with the CNRP and then led protests trying to force the CNRP leader to confess to the infidelity.
By email yesterday, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the alleged conversations showed a “shocking abuse of power” that should lead to Manith’s sacking. “This is just about the worst example yet of the Cambodian military blatantly acting as political shock troops for the CPP,” Robertson said.
“The stench of the RCAF’s one-sided political agenda is so strong that any foreign militaries still conducting training or joint exercises need to walk away now. ”Manith, 39, was promoted to the head of the Defence Ministry’s intelligence unit last year.
Reached by email yesterday, Paul Chambers, a lecturer at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, said Manith engaging in political sabotage was a clear abuse of his role.
“National security has been distorted to serve the purposes of personal, family and party security,” Chambers said. Under law regulating military staff, personnel shall be neutral in their functions and work activities, though the law allows troops to express private political opinions.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat on Tuesday said the ministry, together with the Interior Ministry, would investigate the authenticity of the Manith leaks, however he said any findings were not related to politics.
Also contacted on Tuesday, Defence Minister Tea Banh appeared less concerned with the purported exchanges between Manith and Sovantha, asking, “Why do we care about their business?”.
Sovantha – whose personal Facebook account also posted more than 400 screenshots of purported online chats between her and the premier (removed yesterday), which the Post has been unable to verify – remained unreachable for comment yesterday.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan – who on Tuesday said the Manith-Sovantha exchanges appeared real and were likely accessed by some someone who bought Sovantha’s old phone – warned against jumping to conclusions.
He added that anyone who believed their honour had been damaged by the leaks could file a complaint.
Political analyst Ou Virak said the scandal had not shocked anyone. “It just goes to show how dirty politics has been and will continue to be and the level of mistrust among the public will basically be on the rise, if it’s not high enough already.”