Government mouthpiece Fresh News has yet again published the purported details of an unsubstantiated conspiracy involving the Cambodian opposition, claiming the party received training from a Taiwanese “extremist group” in late 2013 in orchestrating regime change – training it then used to orchestrate postelection protests that the government violently quelled in January 2014.
The basis for the outlandish allegations, however, appeared to be little more than a meeting between the CNRP and Taiwan’s now-ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and widely circulated photos of a Cambodia National Rescue Party official attending a pre-election rally for the party in Taiwan.
The latest claims came after Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed on Wednesday that National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun had been assigned to investigate a similar conspiracy theory – also posted anonymously to a Facebook page called “Kon Khmer” and parroted by Fresh News – that the CNRP had received funds from a Serbian group and had trained its activists in Jakarta, Indonesia.
According to yesterday’s allegations, an extremist group from Taiwan with “much experience in mobilising public support to topple the government” trained the CNRP at its headquarters in late 2013 as part of a plot to overthrow the current administration.
“[This] is done in form of a colour revolution to create a government ruled by the United States and serving the geopolitical strategy of the US in Asia,” the post reads.
The post alleges that the Taiwanese “extremist group” met with the CNRP on December 24, directly linking it to increased violence during widespread garment sector wage protests taking place in tandem with the CNRP’s own post-election demonstrations.
The wage protests culminated in riots at Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in early January, only to be brutally shut down by security forces, who killed at least four people when they fired into the crowd. A nonviolent opposition sit-in across town was violently cleared the following day.
But Huai-Hui Hsieh, a former staffer with the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party and pictured in photographs posted on Fresh News, yesterday explained that the December sit-down had been an ordinary meeting with the CNRP to exchange information.
Hsieh – who laughed out loud yesterday at the characterisation of her party as an “extremist group” – said she and a delegation from the party had travelled to Phnom Penh for about four days in late 2013, “because we wanted to learn the situation of Cambodia”. At the time, Hsieh was the deputy director of the party’s department of international affairs.
“They were all staff of the [DPP] party headquarters,” Hsieh said, adding they had also visited other countries, including Indonesia and Thailand. “If my visit in the past will bring me [to] being questioned by a journalist years later, I will be very disappointed.”
Both her party and the CNRP are part of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), which the CNRP’s self-exiled founder Sam Rainsy Party chaired between 2012 and 2014. The council consists of 10 parties, including the Liberal Party of the Philippines and the Democrat Party in Thailand.
But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan rejected Hsieh’s denial that any collusion took place, saying the CNRP’s acts contradicted the government’s clear adherence to the “One China” policy – China’s claim that Taiwan is a non-independent province.
“This is the policy of the elected government, so it’s wrong to contradict this and it affects national security. Let the Ministry of Interior take measures,” he said.
The Interior Ministry’s spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached yesterday. But former opposition leader Sam Rainsy decried the accusations as “groundless”, and said they served to “incite China to support Hun Sen”.
“The premises of the statement are groundless. It is completely false and terribly biased,” he said, in a phone call yesterday.
Rainsy added that they had been holding meetings in Cambodia with other regional political parties – also members of CALD – which he said the CPP was well aware of.
The latest conspiracy theory also repeats earlier claims that Kem Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, was working as spy to “cooperate secretly” under “the excuse of election observation” in Taiwan in January 2016 to separate it from mainland China and implement a “Two China” plan – again alleging she was working to topple the CPP government.
Fresh News attempted to substantiate these claims with several photographs of Monovithya, which appear to have been taken at a pre-election rally of DPP supporters and with CALD members there for election observation. One was almost identical to a shot circulated by CALD in a blog post about the event.
In an email yesterday, Monovithya dismissed the allegations, and said “Cambodia deserves better than this circus”.
Fresh News CEO Lim Cheavutha would not comment on the veracity of the claims, but added that the news outlet was only posting “interesting information”.
“It is not different from WikiLeaks, which often leaks classified and international information,” he said.
Also yesterday, Fresh News posted an article attacking the USAID-funded NGO National Democratic Institute – which was expelled from the country last week – and fellow State Department-funded International Republican Institute with a 2005 WikiLeaks article talking about the organisations’ work in Venezuela at the time.
According to the WikiLeaks article, NDI advocates engaging reformers, such as young leaders, women and civil society, in order to ensure the survival of the Venezuelan opposition. The suggestions, the article asserts, show NDI sought to “use the opposition to control the country”. NDI did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Political observer Meas Ny said Fresh News was now the primary tool for the government to push false information in a bid to gain support, while at the same time tarnishing the CNRP.
“When you look at state television and radio stations, people don’t believe them much [anymore], so now they [the government] start using Fresh News,” he said.