After landing at Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday morning, opposition leader Kem Sokha greeted scores of his supporters before moving on to a different entourage – a dozen bodyguards.
As the beleaguered Cambodia National Rescue Party acting head made his way out of the gate and into a waiting car, the guards jogged alongside before jumping into a vehicle of their own. At the front of the small convoy, a third car, one bearing the plates of a foreign embassy, led the way.
Normally accompanied by just two or three bodyguards, Sokha has seen his retinue balloon in recent weeks amid fears for his safety, party officials said.
“It’s for security reasons,” explained Ho Vann, one of the opposition lawmakers who met Sokha at the airport.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Interior met with Sokha and offered him protection if desired. He declined, ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday.
“We agreed to provide him with special protection if he needed. But after he did not write any special proposal,” said Sopheak.
Instead, Sokha – perhaps unsurprisingly – has favoured private guards. Cambodia National Rescue Party spokeswoman Kem Monovithya told the Post yesterday that security had been upped for Sokha following the fallout over his alleged comments concerning S-21, and a series of protests and forum disruptions that came in its wake.
“Since the whole drama unfolded a few weeks ago” bodyguards had been added, she said. “There’s intimidation, as you’re well aware of, but there haven’t been any direct threats, except for at the forums. People have been coming to disrupt the forums and trying to create disruptions,” she said.
Neither she nor spokesman Yim Sovann knew which embassy had sent an escort, but both said they had received an overwhelming amount of support from foreign diplomats.
“Some diplomats [met him], I cannot recognise them all. But I appreciate their help. They fear for the safety of all opposition leaders,” he said.
Additional reporting by Abby Seiff