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Envoy under fire for remarks

Protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Seoul in January demand Hun Sen’s resignation
Protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Seoul in January demand Hun Sen’s resignation. Opposition supporters in Korea say the Cambodian ambassador is trying to limit their freedom of expression. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Envoy under fire for remarks

Overseas activists linked with the opposition party have claimed that the Cambodian ambassador to South Korea is trying to limit the freedom of expression of the tens of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers and students who live there.

In a statement released Wednesday, the US-based Cambodia National Rescue Foundation condemned Ambassador Suth Dina for making “political threats” by warning migrants not to protest an upcoming ASEAN-Korea summit in Busan that Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to attend.

Anti-Hun Sen protests organised by Cambodian migrants following last year’s elections drew large crowds in Korea. Dina was one of a number of new ambassadors dispatched overseas earlier this year, reportedly with express instructions to counter negative views of the government propagated by the opposition.

The CNRF cited Facebook postings by Dina, referring to tight security around the upcoming summit, as evidence.

“Korean police has provided the names of workers and anti-government [activists]. Do you want them to take action? Because you guys are not political refugees.… Bear in mind that Korea strongly supports the Cambodian PM,” he wrote.

“Think further about your future and family.”

When reached yesterday, Dina said his comments had been “misunderstood”.

“I did not mention like that, I said to all people in Korea that the Korean security will be strengthened during the summit. I want to inform our Cambodian people that they must respect this situation,” he said.

“It’s not like in other countries or like in Cambodia where they can do something.”

While Dina denied that he was targeting opposition supporters in particular, he did say that migrants should be dedicating their time to achieving “economic benefit”.

“I want to warn them not to play too much in politics in Korea,” he said.

He added, however, that he was confident no protests would be held during the summit in December.

“I know because I talk to them, all elements, pro-CPP or pro-CNRP; they understand the situation.”

Dina, who took up his position in April, was once a feisty anti-government protester himself. He led the anti-communist Khmer Front Party, which was formed in 2003 and later became the Norodom Ranariddh Party in 2006. After serving as NRP spokesman, Dina defected to the ruling CPP in 2009.

Yi Sinorn, the president of a CNRP-aligned youth group in Korea, said that activists had been “threatened” before.

“Earlier this year, I led 3,000 workers to protest in front of the Cambodian Embassy for the case of the 23 [arrested garment workers]. I met with the Korean police, they said the Cambodian government asked them to arrest us but they did not,” he said in an email.

“Lately our workers have posted comments on Facebook criticising Cambodia and the new Cambodian Ambassador … and I think the ambassador is worried about protests against Hun Sen during his visit to Korea next month.”

But he added that his movement, which only has 20 to 30 truly active members, had no plans to do so.

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