PHNOM PENH —
A senior ruling party lawmaker has attempted to distance himself from accusations he made against a local shop owner in his constituency, whom he accused of creating a haven for “rebels”.
Chheang Vun, a Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker for Battambang, had accused Sin Chanpeou Rozeth, the owner of a food store, of providing safe haven to supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, a group established by a former opposition leader that has been labeled a terrorist organization by Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials.
In late January, Vun wrote on his Facebook page that he had seen “those who declared for the rebel movement” in the shop, adding, “If this store becomes a gathering place, it is very dangerous and it cannot be forgiven.”
The comments provoked a strong reaction from rights groups, who accused the senior lawmaker of endangering Rozeth’s safety.
In January, the former opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, announced the creation of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement following the dissolution of the main opposition party he once led, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and the imprisonment of its president, Kem Sokha, on treason charges. Senior officials immediately denounced the movement as a terrorist organization.
Sokha and his supporters have publicly distanced themselves from the group.
This week, Vun said he had not accused Rozeth, but that “If it is where rebels gather, it cannot be forgiven and Rozeth would be in danger.”
Rozeth said she considered the comments a death threat. “I am just simply trying to run a business,” she said, claiming that Vun had visited the shop and struck up conversations about politics, seemingly trying to bait her and her customers into admitting support for the CNRM.
“Customers can talk about anything they want. It is their right as long as it does not break the law,” she said.
Seung Sengkarona, a spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, said Vun should be more careful in his speech as a senior lawmaker. “It only reflects badly on his public image when he gets into public spats with a young woman. When he accuses people without any proof, it will come back to haunt him.”
Vun was reportedly asked to stop harassing Rozeth in late January by Interior Minister Sar Kheng.