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PM, Sokha talk leaked, purports to show private negotiations between rivals

Opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) speaks to Prime Minister Hun Sen at a session at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh late last year. AFP
Opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) speaks to Prime Minister Hun Sen at a session at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh late last year. AFP

PM, Sokha talk leaked, purports to show private negotiations between rivals

The prime minster yesterday boasted he was pulling the opposition’s strings after verifying as “one hundred percent” true a leaked phone conversation purporting to feature details of a back-channel deal with opposition leader Kem Sokha, as the latter attempted to negotiate his freedom from effective house arrest.

Released on Saturday, the audio recording is the latest covertly recorded clip uploaded by Facebook user “Seiha”, who also posted alleged WhatsApp messages suggesting Sokha colluded with the premier in a bid to take over the Cambodia National Rescue Party, messages an opposition lawmaker featured in the exchange yesterday said were fake.

The leaks came just days after a trove of at-times damning text messages – some of which The Post were able to independently verify – appeared to show tycoons, cabinet members and Hun Sen’s relatives engaging in ethically dubious behaviour.

The latest recording was picked up by government-aligned outlet Fresh News, which wrote that the conversation happened on September 25, at which time Sokha was hiding in the CNRP headquarters to avoid arrest in a “prostitution” case widely considered politically motivated.

In the clip, Hun Sen, referring to his plan to reduce political tensions during the Pchum Ben holiday, pushes Sokha to censure then-CNRP president Sam Rainsy for his frequent criticisms on Facebook, which he suggests are an intentional ploy to provoke authorities to arrest Sokha.

Hun Sen then seemingly guarantees Sokha he will not be arrested if he leave the headquarters to register to vote and further suggests Sokha should “grab the force and take over the party”. The premier states that he won’t work with Rainsy, whom he derides for an alleged comment suggesting his son Hun Manet was born of an affair between his wife and a Vietnamese general.

“Kha, I can work with you, but with Sam Rainsy’s case, I will not make an exception for him, and if [you] continue to attach yourself to him you will also be in danger,” says Hun Sen, who also refers to using the Japanese Embassy as an intermediary with the CNRP and as an outlet to which he vented his anger at the comments about his family.

During the conversation, Sokha appears to go along with the premier and asks for the case against him to be dropped.

“I request Samdech to end [the case]; what I said, I will do it, Samdech,” he said, using the prime minister’s honorific.

In its story, Fresh News points to a series of events they characterise as proof Sokha went along with the deal. They note he issued a call for “calm” on Facebook – a statement which did not directly rebuke Rainsy – left the headquarters to register, signed a statement condemning the claims about Manet and, in December, received a royal pardon at Hun Sen’s behest.

Speaking to the outlet over the weekend, Hun Sen said the conversations showed Sokha “followed my instructions”.

“This was the result of the discussion between His Excellency Kem Sokha and me. His Excellency often sends information to me including about releasing statements,” he said.

CNRP officials would not confirm or deny the audio yesterday. However, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhay Eang said the party had been informed of Sokha’s conversation with the prime minister on September 25, which he said had been necessary because of the “hot” political situation.

“We all knew,” he said, declining to comment on the content of the messages.

“We do not care and we are not surprised as well, because the problem has happened for a long time and repeatedly. Let the public make a decision.”

Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said though “leaks and dirty tricks” were long a staple of Cambodian politics, the timing did suggest the latest release was in response to the CPP leaks.

“It’s probable that they’ve had this alleged Kem Sokha-Hun Sen recording in their possession for some time and they’ve been waiting for the right time to release it,” he said.

“Doing it now while the CPP leaks are in the media and attracting a lot of negative attention is probably from their perspective a smart thing to do.”

The WhatsApp messages, meanwhile, purport to show CNRP lawmaker Mao Monivan acting as an intermediary between Hun Sen’s cabinet and Sokha in talks to have the leader take the reins of the party in exchange for supporting recent controversial legal amendments. The party ultimately boycotted votes on both the amendments in question, and has since staunchly criticised them.

The messages also appear to reference a bribe, saying “Samdech” has prepared a “huge Chinese [New Year] envelope for His Excellency for a trip to Australia”.

But contacted yesterday, Monivan said the whole thing was a “set-up” and aimed to weaken the CNRP.

In an email yesterday, Rainsy, who resigned from the party last month to avoid having his convictions used to dissolve the party under the controversial new laws, called on people to discard material “that have been invented or doctored and published out of their context”.

Calling the leaks “incitements aimed at dividing the CNRP”, he said the party remained “as strong as ever”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON AND VONG SOKHENG

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