Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking to distance his ruling party from the brutal attacks on two opposition lawmakers last week.
Witnesses have identified members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, as well as the police and military, as anti-government “protesters” who demonstrated outside the National Assembly last week, just prior to the brutal attacks on the two lawmakers, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, by masked men.
In a public speech before Japanese officials for the inauguration of a sewage and drainage system in Phnom Penh Thursday, Hun Sen said the attackers were not participants in the demonstration. Instead, he posited, they were a group of men who were angered at the lawmakers for calling them “Vietnamese puppets.”
In interviews with VOA Khmer Thursday, the lawmakers both denied the claim and said Hun Sen was seeking to blame the victims of the attacks. They have called for further investigation into the assault, after three men turned themselves in to police earlier this week claiming to be the assailants.
Hun Sen’s remarks came after pointed criticism of Sam Rainsy, head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, and the opposition’s continued attacks on Cambodia’s relationship with Vietnam. “In order to have good dialogue, there is only one way: both sides need to stop attacking or insulting each other,” Hun Sen said. “There should not be mention of ‘Vietnamese puppets’ in every circumstance.”
In last week’s attack, protesters had already dispersed, Hun Sen said. But the assailants were angered when the opposition lawmakers drove by and called them Vietnamese puppets. Hun Sen says it's now up to the courts to prosecute the case. “Yet the beatings happened because those men were angry,” he said.
Hun Sen also said the protests last week, calling for the ouster of Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha, were a response to anti-Hun Sen protests held in Paris while the premier was there. “If there hadn’t been protests in Paris and New York, there wouldn’t have been protests in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Human Rights Watch has condemned last week’s protests and attacks, saying they are reminiscent of CPP attacks on the opposition in the 1990s, a period of political upheaval and threat to CPP power.
Similarly, Rescue Party lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea denied insulting anyone to prompt their assaults. “They broke my car’s window and dragged me out,” Nhay Chamroeun said. “There was no insulting. What [Hun Sen] said is wrong. It is not right.” He called Hun Sen’s statement a “diversion” through “finger-pointing.”
Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy and Interior Minister Sar Kheng held a closed-door meeting Wednesday, seeking to restore a working relationship between the ruling party and opposition. A Rescue Party spokesman said the informal talks were meant to quell tensions between the two sides. On Thursday, Hun Sen called the meeting a “step forward.”