Prime Minister Hun Sen last week sent a pair of direct messages to acting Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha, the first of which threatened “bloodshed” if protests confronted his eldest son in Australia, according to members of the opposition.
The messages, the content of which was confirmed by three CNRP lawmakers, were allegedly sent via WhatsApp last week as Hun Manet, head of the Defence Ministry’s anti-terrorism department and a deputy commander of the Bodyguard Unit, prepared to meet supporters in Melbourne.
The first warned of bloodshed in response to the protests – which were subsequently held by members of the Cambodian community in Australia on Friday – using the Khmer term bangho chheam, which translates to “flowing of blood”.
According to the sources, who requested anonymity, the premier then said the party should remember what happened when anti-government protesters confronted him in Paris last October – a thinly veiled reference to the vicious assault of two CNRP lawmakers outside the National Assembly by soldiers from the premier’s personal bodyguard unit.
In that attack, the perpetrators emerged from a mass pro-government rally that Hun Sen had alluded to the night before in Paris.The group of at least 16 men dragged the two lawmakers from their cars and beat them in the street in what appeared to be a well-coordinated attack. However, only three men – all belatedly identified as members of the premier’s bodyguard unit – were convicted.
The second message sent by the prime minister, meanwhile, warned the opposition against claiming they were not involved in the Melbourne protest, with the premier citing seemingly intercepted correspondence from an activist in Melbourne and party spokesman Yim Sovann about the rally.
Speaking yesterday, Sovann declined to respond to the messages. He, however, confirmed he had received text messages and emails from supporters in Melbourne inquiring about the CNRP’s position on the protest, to which he had not responded electronically. Instead, Sovann said he had called one activist to relay the party’s stance: that it was not involved.
The CNRP had been planning to join a National Assembly plenary session on Friday, which would have ended a months-long parliamentary boycott instituted in protest of a slew of legal cases against the party and its top leadership.
However, following the receipt of the messages, the party held a meeting on Friday, and after discussing the text messages, opted not to attend. One opposition source said the messages constituted a “serious” threat of danger.
Sovann, the party spokesman, would only say the party had received a “threat to our safety”. He added that the party wanted the situation to “cool down” and would focus on encouraging supporters to register to vote.
Reached yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan and senior government official Eang Sophalleth, who has in the past acted as a spokesman for the prime minister, said they were unaware of the messages and declined to comment.
The alleged messages from Hun Sen echo similar warnings delivered in April, when anti-government protesters vowed to confront Manet, a three-star general, in the United States.
At the time, the premier warned publicly of counter demonstrations against the opposition in Phnom Penh, though despite several rallies against Manet, none ultimately occurred.
On Friday evening, Khmer Australians gathered outside a restaurant in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs where Manet met with supporters. In a post on Facebook, Manet said that “despite” the protesters, which he claimed were about 150 in number, more than 600 Cambodian expatriates joined the event to show “the spirit of Khmer solidarity”.
However, Khmer-Australian politician Hong Lim, one of the protest organisers, claimed there were between 500 and 600 protesters and only 200 attendees. Lim, who was banned from his native Cambodia by the Foreign Ministry for criticising the government over the murder of political analyst Kem Ley, said the group stayed for just over four hours.
The politician, a state parliamentarian for the Australian Labor Party in Victoria, said protesters shouted slogans accusing the CPP of being responsible for Ley’s murder – which many believe was a political assassination – called for Hun Sun to step down, and demanded Manet “go back” to Cambodia.
“All in all it was very orderly,” he said, noting 16 police had attended to “ensure everyone’s safety”.
“We keep reminding people what happens in a real democracy,” Lim said yesterday by phone, adding he was “disappointed” in the CNRP for not participating. He said further demonstrations were planned to greet Manet in Adelaide and Sydney.
In a statement released on Saturday, the CPP accused Lim of making “cheap accusations”, saying he had “no right to express [a] view on Cambodia” and did not represent the country’s voice.