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Hun Sen Trades More Public Barbs With Opposition Vice President

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, talks to Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong before the plenary session meeting for 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

Prime Minister Hun Sen has once again spoken out against the opposition’s vice president, Kem Sokha. The two have been trading barbs despite an agreement by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to foster dialogue.

On Sunday, Kem Sokha told supporters in Kampot province he feared Hun Sen was seeking to divide the Rescue Party, as he has done with political opponents in the past.

“It’s very important that we stay united and not break up,” he said. “Our opponent’s victory in the past came from their ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.”

Hun Sen is renowned for his use of televised speeches to lambaste his opponents and sway public opinion. Without mentioning Kem Sokha by name, he said in a speech Tuesday he would “demote” the vice president of the opposition if he continued to speak against him.

Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann told VOA Khmer Hun Sen should call officials in for meetings to air his grievances with them, rather than publicly broadcast them.

Kem Ley, an independent researcher, said Tuesday the CPP appears to be trying to divide the opposition, through public comments and political maneuvers.

Hun Sen has held friendly meetings with Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy on one hand, while publicly criticizing Kem Sokha on the other. He has made warnings against “extremism,” and used common Cambodian expression to urge an end to political violence.

“There should be an end to the politics of ‘When the water rises, the fish eat ants, and when the water falls, the ants eat fish,’” he said in a speech in April. “While I’m in power, everyone can live together.”

Cambodia will hold local elections in 2017, followed by national elections the following year.

The ruling party and opposition have been negotiating under what they call a “culture of dialogue” since July 2014, when the Rescue Party ended a nearly yearlong boycott of government, due to 2013 elections they said was marred by irregularities and fraud.