Prime Minister Hun Sen told a group of government officials Thursday that defectors from the royalist party to the ruling party should not be considered turncoats.
Addressing a group of Funcinpec officials at an agricultural development meeting, Hun Sen said members of any political party had the legal right to move to another without being branded traitorous.
"He said, firstly, don't use the word 'submission' for those who defected from Funcinpec to the CPP. It's not right," said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. "And, secondly, don't use the word 'turncoat' either. It is neither submission nor turncoat, because it is their political right to do so."
Funcinpec is the parliamentary partner of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, though its influence has steadily declined since it was a viable rival in the late 1990s.
"Actually, some people are former politicians in the CPP, and we'd just appointed them, so the majority are now going back to their party," said Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay. "That's why some people just said those politicians are traitors. This point is not right either, because they are going back to where they once belonged."
Some Funcinpec officials have steadily moved their allegiance to the CPP and other parties following a sound defeat of royalist representatives in local elections in April 2007.