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Ministry official wary of Sokha arrest strategy

Acting opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks to provincial CNRP members yesterday at the party’s headquarters in Meanchey district. Photo supplied
Acting opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks to provincial CNRP members yesterday at the party’s headquarters in Meanchey district. Photo supplied

Ministry official wary of Sokha arrest strategy

An Interior Ministry spokesman has questioned the wisdom of arresting opposition leader Kem Sokha, saying it could result in “bloodshed between Khmer and Khmer”.

Khieu Sopheak, speaking to Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, said Sokha’s arrest in the near term would impact the nation negatively and suggested Sokha could be arrested at some indeterminate point in the future.

“My personal point of view is that if [we] arrest Mr Kem Sokha, it will be a loss to the national interest,” he said. “So what are we arresting him for?”

However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan and Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday both agreed that a failure to arrest Sokha soon would render both the National Assembly and court insignificant, adding that Sopheak’s comments were only his personal opinion.

“The National Assembly allowed the court to proceed, so if we do not enforce this according to the law, [we] must close down the National Assembly and close down the court,” Siphan said.

Siphan added that the threat of demonstrations should not be a deterrent to Sokha’s arrest, calling it a separate problem that the government would deal with using “the rule of law”.

Mirroring Siphan’s comments, Eysan said that if Sokha was given any leeway, then the same should apply to other prisoners as well, saying the court as an institution should be shuttered in that eventuality.

Sopheak could not be reached for comment yesterday, but his remarks came weeks after his boss, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, seemingly departed from the CPP party line regarding so-called colour revolutions, acknowledging that inactivity by officials could result in increased popular discontent.

A CNRP lawmaker, who requested to remain anonymous, yesterday said the contradictory signals on how to proceed with Sokha’s arrest indicated deeper disagreements within the CPP, most likely between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Kheng, who was close to late CPP president Chea Sim, a factional rival of the premier’s.

“The disagreement is mounting now,” the lawmaker said. “If the arrest is not put in effect, it shows that Sar Kheng’s side may have the upper hand, or at least increasing its influence within the ruling party.”

Sokha, who has been holed up at the CNRP headquarters since last week and evaded an attempted arrest by the police, has received support from international rights organisations and diplomatic missions, many of which have classified the government’s recent actions as politically motivated.

After a European Union statement, released earlier this week, labelled the treatment of Sokha “judicial harassment”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday issued a statement responding to the “amazement and indignation” expressed by envoys at the Cambodian judicial process.

The ministry then goes on to say the Kingdom’s law enforcement procedures relating to “subordination of a witness” and refusal to appear in court were the same as those followed in other democratic countries, “particularly in those of the European Union”.

“Therefore the allegations of ‘judicial harassment’ against some politicians are absolutely unfounded,” the statement reads.

The Delegation of the European Union to Cambodia did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

Late yesterday, yet another summons was revealed by the municipal court, this ordering Sokha to appear on June 14 for failure to respond to previous summonses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior yesterday announced that a planned probe into a CNRP petition seeking King Norodom Sihamoni’s intervention in the Sokha case will be led by National Police chief Neth Savoeun.

Savoeun was appointed to head a newly created investigating commission by Kheng, who was tasked with initiating a probe into the veracity of the more than 170,000 thumbprints on the petition.

The commission will “examine the thumbprints” on the petition, “investigate who made the thumbprints”, verify their accuracy and report back to the minister of interior, a statement reads.

Additional reporting by Shaun Turton

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