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PM keeps up attack on Kem Sokha

Protesters demonstrate in front of court
Protesters demonstrate in front of court in December for the release of opposition lawmaker Meach Sovannara. Heng Chivoan

PM keeps up attack on Kem Sokha

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday continued his attack on opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha, musing that if he was genuinely unhappy with last July’s political deal, he should resign from his role in parliament.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education, Hun Sen attacked Sokha over a speech given to supporters in Long Beach, California, last week, in which he publicly aired longstanding grievances with the deal that ended months of political deadlock, and allegedly referred to attempts to “topple” the government.

Reiterating threats made a day earlier, Hun Sen called on the courts to take action against the Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy leader for the remarks.

“You [Kem Sokha] said ‘call for change’ and your movement wanted to change [the government] after the election, which means overthrowing the legitimate government. This is for the court to make its own judgement on,” he said.

The prime minister added that while he is not in control of the Kingdom’s judicial system, he does command authority over the armed forces.

“I am not in control of the courts, the National Assembly, the Senate or the Constitutional Council, but I do control the armed forces, and you dared to [lead street protests], which I also dared to take action against,” he said.

However, Hun Sen urged the courts on Wednesday to add relevant charges to a litany of cases already lodged against the opposition leader.

The prime minister dismissed Sokha’s calls for CNRP member Meach Sovanara to be released from prison – where he has been detained for several months on charges relating to a July 15 Freedom Park protest where several district security guards were badly beaten – in time for Khmer New Year, which begins on April 14.

“I would like to ask two questions: why did you accept a seat as the first president of the National Assembly when you were not happy with July 22 political agreement? And what will you do after Khmer New Year if Sovanara cannot be released? Will there be another street protest?” he said. “If I were you, I would resign.”

If protests were again taken to the streets, Hun Sen warned that arrests would follow.

Since the premier’s initial outburst, the opposition has claimed Sokha was misinterpreted.

In a statement released yesterday, the CNRP acknowledged the deputy leader’s apology to supporters but dismissed reports that he said he wanted to topple the government.

“The CNRP would like to stress that its leader, Sam Rainsy, and deputy leader, Kem Sokha, adhered to the principle of non-violence, and a quote that Kem Sokha said that he wanted to overthrow the government was not true,” the statement said.

In an interview published on Wednesday by Radio Free Asia, Sokha said Hun Sen “must be confused about the information”.

“I never used the word ‘topple’, and in my heart I never want to use violence. I’m always opposed to any violent actions,” he was quoted as saying.