The United Nations is investigating claims that military police attempted to kick an opposition commune chief candidate off a moving motorbike on the eve of the election in Kandal province, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed yesterday.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) commune chief candidate Ros Savoeurn said he was harassed and intimidated on June 1, just days before the June 4 poll that saw his party defeated by more than 2,500 votes in Kandal Stung district’s Doeum Reus commune, according to National Election Committee figures. Savoeurn said the CNRP still took two out of seven council seats.
The escalation to physical violence came after months of bribes and threats from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Savoeurn claimed, in a commune that houses Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Personal Bodyguard Unit and its commander, Hing Bun Heang.
Last week a Post investigation uncovered widespread allegations of troops being trucked into communes – including Roka commune, which neighbours Doeum Reus – in a bid to bolster votes.
“They intimidated and threatened my life,” Savoeurn said, saying he could still feel pain in his left thigh where the boot had struck him.
He said after sharing a meal with a friend, a man who appeared to be a bodyguard arrived, walkie-talkie in hand. Savoeurn left, but as he rode his motorbike, two men dressed in paramilitary uniform and wearing helmets drew their motorbike “very close”.
“The one sitting on the back used his leg to kick me,” he said. “I think they were trying to crash me and to kill me.”
He said he tried to push them off and sped up, turning into his village as they continued straight ahead.
Bodyguard Unit Commander Bun Heang flatly denied the accusations of intimidation but doubled down on the heated rhetoric that characterised the CPP’s campaign. “When was the motherf—er [a victim of] attempted murder? The election process was very smooth and it was the most just,” he said.
Bun Heang said he would not create trouble by shooting people in his own homeland and stressed everyone had a right to undertake political activities.
“When you lose, just accept it. [Don’t say you are] losing by making an excuse that someone attempted murder ... Be careful of lightning striking in the centre of your head during the rainy season,” he said. “Tell me what his name is – I will file a counter lawsuit against him.”
The friend who met with Savoeurn on June 1 asked not to be named for fear of retribution, but confirmed a bodyguard had come to his house, asked who Savoeurn was, and left around five minutes after Savoeurn. Later that night, he was visited by another bodyguard.
“When he came to my house I was very scared ... I could not sleep for two nights,” he said.
He said he “did not dare” to ask who they were or what they were doing in his home, as he feared he might be shot.
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia said they were looking into the case, but declined to elaborate.
In a document dated June 2 and seen by The Post yesterday, the Commune Election Council (CEC) declined to investigate Savoeurn’s complaint, saying his accusation of “attempted intentional murder” was a criminal matter and therefore outside the CEC’s authority.
While he could not comment on the specifics of the case, Sam Kuntheamy, of election watchdog Nicfec, disagreed with the CEC decision, saying “they cannot reject the complaint”.
“It is illegal ... any party cannot intimidate or threaten any political candidate,” he said, adding such a case could be both a criminal and a CEC matter.
“If there is a kind of intimidation or threatening, it’s not free or fair ... If people hear about that, they are scared and they have bad feelings.”
Savoeurn said he did not plan to file a complaint to police. “It seems pointless. Everything is under the ruling party ... and I am just a normal person,” he said.
“Maybe I should just stop. I am still concerned for my safety.”
He said local CPP activists operated on a pattern of bribes and threats, and the large presence of armed forces in the area made voters feel vulnerable. He hoped the attention of OHCHR would decrease the intimidation.
“When they cannot break me, if they can kill me, they will scare others,” he said. “As the leaders, we have to be braver.”