RESPONSIBILITY for the abduction of Sam Rainsy Party MP Lon Phon is being directed
squarely at the government by both SRP officials and the victim himself.
Lon Phon safely returned to his home in Phnom Penh
Phon was kidnapped on Oct 7 by four men in military uniforms packing pistols and
Phon was released unharmed on the evening of Oct 9 after the payment of a $140,000
ransom, of which $100,000 was provided to Phon's family as a "personal loan"
from Kem Sokhavy, wife of Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak.
Although government officials, including Hun Sen and Khieu Sopheak, derided allegations
that Phon's abduction was politically motivated, in an Oct 11 interview with the
Post SRP Secretary General Eng Chhai Eang insisted that the kidnapping was "an
intimidation trick" by the ruling CPP.
Eang lists "inconsistencies" in the official version of Phon's kidnapping
and subsequent release that indicate what he perceives as official collusion in the
"The police were involved with [the abduction] all the way," Eang said.
"They could have arrested [the kidnappers] when they came to pick up the ransom
... if they were real kidnappers they could not have escaped."
Eang describes Phon's abduction as a "test" by the government to see how
much intimidation they could bring to bear on the SRP without raising concerns in
the international community.
"I think originally [the government] wanted to arrest or even murder [Phon],
but after the expressions of international concern, [the authorities] decided to
call [Phon's abduction] a kidnapping," Eang said. "This was a test by the
government to measure the international community's reaction to intimidation [of
the political opposition]."
Eang's assertions were echoed by SRP MP Son Chhay: "I continue to feel that
[Phon's abduction] was part of political intimidation of the Sam Rainsy Party."
While Phon refused to directly implicate the government for his abduction, he insisted
that the government must ultimately bear responsibility for the safety and security
of all National Assembly members.
"It's not for me to say that [my abduction] was part of a government plot, but
the government has a duty to protect all National Assembly members," Phon said.
"All international observers as well as the United Nations should regard [my
abduction] as political in nature."
According to Eang, however, the actions of Khieu Sopheak's wife in arranging a $100,000
loan for Phon's abduction indicated that she had intimate knowledge of the kidnappers
"Originally the kidnappers asked for a $350,000 ransom, but after the [$100,000]
loan was discussed with Phon's family, the kidnappers suddenly dropped their ransom
demand to $180,000," Eang said. The kidnappers eventually settled on a ransom
"This was very, very strange," Eang said. "How could [Kem Sokhavy]
have known the kidnappers would reduce the amount of their ransom demand?"
Eang claimed that the ultimate intent of Phon's abduction was to erode the SRP's
supporter base by making association with the party look "dangerous".
"The government used Phon's abduction to give a message to wealthy people who
are considering joining the opposition parties," Eang said.
Phon's abduction follows a series of allegations of intimidation of SRP supporters
in Phon's electoral district of Battambang, culminating in the arrests last month
of SRP activists Kung Bun Heang and Mong Davuth in connection with the Sep 1998 rocket
attack on Prime Minister Hun Sen's motorcade in Siem Reap.
According to Eang, official moves against the SRP continue, with activists being
promised "rewards" by unnamed government officials in return for removing
SRP signs from the outside of their homes.
While insisting that his political activities will continue unabated, Phon rests
uneasily at home nursing a head wound that resulted from a blow from a kidnapper's
"I will do everything in my power to help the people who elected me," Phon
said, glancing nervously at the large, private bodyguard hovering behind him. "But
I'm worried about my family."