Khmer Power Party head and former convicted “terrorist” Sourn Serey Ratha was arrested yesterday over a Facebook post criticising the deployment of troops to the Laos border by suggesting that grunts in the field would suffer while the military’s leaders hung back to enjoy “money” and “girls”.
Serey Ratha, who returned from self-imposed exile to start his party after a July 2015 pardon for a terrorism conviction, was detained over a social media post he made on Saturday while driving back to Phnom Penh yesterday, said National Police Chief Neth Savoeun.
Savoeun described Serey Ratha’s offence as “dividing the army to not obey commands and impacting upon affairs of national defence”, and said that it related directly to a post in which he criticised Prime Minister Hun Sen’s deployment of troops to the border.
Serey Ratha wrote in the post that any outbreak of armed fighting with Laos over its alleged incursions into Cambodia following Friday’s deployment to Laos would only lead to the foot soldiers getting hurt while the top echelons of the army and Hun Sen stay safe.
“The marshal gives the orders to the army to prepare to fight by putting an ultimatum for the enemy but then heads to the enemy’s fortress to negotiate,” Serey Ratha wrote, explaining that any fighting would be the same as past armed disputes with Thai forces.
“When war takes place with Laos, the result will not be different from the war with Thailand,” he wrote. “The Cambodian children in the army will die horribly on the battlefield, but their commanders will be promoted, collect money and have fun with girls.”
Serey Ratha’s deputy in the KPP, Soung Sophorn, said by telephone that he believed Serey Ratha’s remarks fell within his rights to freedom of speech, and said that the country’s military leaders should not consider themselves above any criticism.
“Sourn Serey Ratha gave constructive criticism,” Sophorn said. “Normally, some leaders are good and some are not good – it meant that some commanders wait to receive benefits, and on the contrary, the Cambodian soldiers receive [hardships].”
“The institution of the army is not the king’s body; it is only the king no one can criticise.”
Yet Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander in Chief Kun Kim – a close personal ally of Hun Sen, who himself went to Stung Treng over the weekend – held a press conference after Serey Ratha’s arrest to welcome the actions and slam the KPP leader’s online criticism.
“The children of the leaders also went there at a distance of hundreds of kilometres, travelling to control the battlefield,” a visibly angry Kim told reporters at the afternoon press conference in Phnom Penh. “That does not mean we went to have fun with girls and wine.”
“You have alleged wrong,” he continued, calling for serious punishment of Serey Ratha over his remarks.
“I am content with this [arrest], and I would like to request to the competent courts to take action immediately and convict very seriously.”