PHNOM PENH —
Opposition lawmaker Mao Monyvann on Wednesday denied a provocative public accusation leveled by his party's former leader that he was a spy seeking to stage an inter-party coup at the behest of the government.
Monyvann, who is currently the acting head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) while party president Kem Sokha remains in jail on charges of treason, said the accusation that he was a spy plotting to take over the CNRP was "ridiculous" and that the accusations would only hurt the opposition.
"Who profits from this?" he asked during an interview with VOA Khmer.
"It will have a cost.... It means that the ones who gain are the ruling party people; they are sitting and smiling."
He was responding to a video appeal released on Facebook on Monday in which Sam Rainsy, the longtime leader of Cambodia’s opposition, told supporters that Monyvann had committed “an act of undignified betrayal” against the CNRP.
He said he had learned that Monyvann was working covertly to divide the opposition in order to help the ruling party, but did not provide hard evidence for the claim.
Rainsy fled Cambodia and went into exile in 2015 to avoid being jailed over an old defamation case that had been suddenly revived. He has not returned to the country since, and in February he resigned from his role in the CNRP for fear the party might be dissolved if he continued to lead it.
Monyvann said that Rainsy did not have enough information to understand the on-the-ground situation in Cambodia since he had been abroad for so long.
“He was told and informed indirectly by officials working to serve other people’s strategies,” he said.
The parliamentarian added that all his political activities were done with the aim of maintaining party unity, with the ultimate goal of winning the 2018 national election, and that Rainsy's accusations could spoil the party's efforts.
Monyvann and Rainsy, despite being longtime colleagues, have a history of bad blood. Monyvann was once a member of Rainsy’s eponymous party, the Sam Rainsy Party, but quit acrimoniously in 2011, claiming mismanagement. He later joined the Human Rights Party, which at the time was a rival party led by Kem Sokha. The two parties merged the following year to form the CNRP. However, political observers have frequently speculated that divisions between the two groups remain under the surface.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed publicly that Monyvann was leaking him information about behind-the-scenes discussions in the CNRP. Shortly after he made the claim, a website published WhatsApp screenshots showing Monyvann purportedly informing the prime minister that Rainsy was spreading rumors about him.
In his video appeal, filmed in Rome this week, Rainsy also called on members of the opposition party to flee the country and join him abroad rather than capitulate to political intimidation. More than half of the CNRP’s lawmakers are already out of Cambodia, fearing arrest if the treason case against Kem Sokha is widened, while one CNRP lawmaker and at least 25 lower-level officials have reportedly defected to the CPP.
Monyvann, however, said he would not leave the country despite facing threats.
Rainsy did not respond to an email asking him to clarify the nature and timing of his accusations. Other CNRP officials could not be reached.