PHNOM PENH —
Three men have turned themselves into police, claiming to have been involved in the beatings of two opposition lawmakers last week.
The Ministry of Interior announced late Tuesday that the men—Chay Sarith, 33; Mao Hoeurn, 34; and Suth Vanny, 45—had turned themselves into police Tuesday afternoon, though little information was immediately available.
The three men confessed to attacking two lawmakers from the Cambodia National Rescue Party—Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea—who were dragged out of their vehicles and attacked by unidentified men, following anti-opposition protests organized and endorsed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Video clips posted on social media show that no security personnel or police intervened during the attacks, which have been widely condemned by rights groups and the international community. Human Rights Watch condemned the attacks as reminiscent of CPP attacks on the opposition in the 1990s.
Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, told VOA Khmer earlier on Tuesday that the government has identified persons of interest, but had not made any arrests or issued any indictments.
Cambodian opposition CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea are seen in wheelchairs at Phyathai hospital in Bangkok on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 after being beaten by protesters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday. (Courtesy of Nhay Chamroeun)
It was unclear late Tuesday what course the investigation will take now, with three men in custody.
“We have not made any formal charges, but we obtained documents, evidence and images from the National Assembly’s secretariate,” Khieu Sopheak said. Authorities are appealing for cooperation via Facebook, but images on Facebook cannot be used officially without confirmation from the page owner, he said. “Nonetheless, we will have results soon.”
The attacks come amid heightened tensions between the CPP and Rescue Party, which have been at odds, though negotiating, since the 2013 elections, which gave the opposition a large number of seats, despite widespread irregularities. CPP lawmakers voted to remove Kem Sokha, a senior Rescue Party lawmaker, from his position as vice president of the National Assembly on Friday.
Local human rights groups issued a statement following last week’s attacks, claiming that witnesses identified security guards and police among the anti-opposition “protesters.” Many of them wore red scarves attached to their shirts, in order to identify themselves to one another, rights workers said.
Khieu Sopheak said the main issue is to find and arrest the men who attacked the lawmakers. “I have not paid much attention to those comments,” he said.
Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith told VOA Khmer Tuesday that the two lawmakers are still in pain, following surgeries and treatment by Thai doctors.
“They are getting better after surgeries, but they are having migraines and body pain due to serious injuries,” he said. “I don't know how serious, but Thai doctors haven't allowed them to leave the hospital.”
Sam Rainsy, head of CNRP, talks to reporters, at Phnom Penh International Airport, on Tuesday, November 3, 2015. (Photo: Hean Socheata/ VOA Khmer)
Returning from a trip abroad, Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy visited the two men in Bangkok Tuesday evening before flying to Phnom Penh. Sam Rainsy told reporters at the airport he would work to maintain dialogue with the CPP, despite the attacks and the prolonged detention of at least 10 opposition supporters.
He called Kem Sokha’s removal from his Assembly post “unlawful” and said he would not name a replacement. And he vowed to “negotiate peacefully” with the CPP to win the release of the opposition supporters.
Meanwhile, Kong Korm, the 74-year-old father of Kong Saphea and a senior opposition senator, announced his retirement from politics on Monday, citing health reasons.