Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Thursday that the soldiers who violently attacked two CNRP lawmakers last week were only reacting to racial insults, while Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he would have “used a gun” against the lawmakers.
Mr. Hun Sen has been accused by opposition leader Sam Rainsy and human rights groups of arranging the violent October 26 attack on Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea at a pro-government protest in front of the National Assembly in retaliation for demonstrations that met the premier during recent visits to Paris and New York.
Speaking at Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park during a ceremony inaugurating a Japanese-funded drainage project, Mr. Hun Sen said that the protest outside the National Assembly would never have occurred had he not been confronted with opposition protests overseas.
“If there’s no fire, there’s no smoke, and if there were no demonstrations in New York and Paris, there would have been no demonstrations in Phnom Penh either,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “So recognize that truth.”
The prime minister added that the attacks were a spur-of-the-moment response after the lawmakers hurled racial insults at the off-duty soldiers, and had nothing to do with the protest.
“That violence was not an assault by the protesters. The protesters had broken up. I heard on television the people who came to confess said that [the CNRP lawmakers] ‘drove their cars and insulted me as a Yuon puppet,’” Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd.
“Yuon” is a Khmer term for the Vietnamese that is often seen as offensive, but is still frequently used by CNRP politicians when discussing issues related to Cambodia’s eastern neighbor.
“They were angry, so they beat them up,” the prime minister explained, counseling his supporters not to react so strongly to insults in the future.
“People who support the government [and] support the CPP, do not use violence if they insult you. Please be patient and walk away. Don’t do any activities that impact their life, body or property.”
The three soldiers—Chay Sarith, 33; Mao Hoeun, 34; and Suth Vanny, 45—were charged with intentional violence on Wednesday for being part of the crowd that assaulted Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea outside parliament.
The government said the men turned themselves in on Tuesday to the Interior Ministry’s official committee investigating the attacks, which is made up of eight high-ranking officials from the ministry and the police force.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Thursday that the case was a cut-and-dry instance of soldiers reacting to insults.
“Let’s think together: They opened their windows and cursed them as ‘Yuon slaves,’ so therefore they beat them,” General Sopheak said.
“If it were me, I would have used a gun,” he added.
The National Police released a report Thursday that also claimed the soldiers had reacted to racial invectives from the CNRP lawmakers.
“The three were sitting drinking coffee near Independence Monument and received news there was a demonstration to remove [deputy opposition leader] Kem Sokha as National Assembly vice president,” the police report recounted.
“Then they went to the front of the National Assembly and joined with the crowd of protesters in order to understand the situation. When the demonstration ended, the protesters dispersed but the perpetrators did not go anywhere yet,” it continued.
“After that, the two lawmakers drove in their vehicles out of the National Assembly, opened their windows and cursed: ‘Puppet of the Yuon!’ causing them to get angry and to beat the lawmakers.”
The police report said the account was based on the men’s own confessions.
In a message Thursday from his hospital bed in Bangkok, Mr. Chamroeun denied the claims that he had used slurs against the protesters.
“I deny cursing any of them. It is not true. There should be more punishment for those who beat me so violently, and then falsifies the fact,” Mr. Chamroeun wrote. “There were more than three attackers, and the mastermind should be responsible too.”
“I think they wanted to beat me to death,” he added. “About the confession, I think it strange when seeing 3 of them came to confess at the same time and no arrest has been made.”
Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea have both said that guards at the National Assembly only allowed them to drive out of a small and usually unused exit at the Assembly compound. When they emerged, assailants were waiting outside, some equipped with walkie-talkies.
Despite the discrepancies between the lawmakers’ account and the narrative presented by the National Police, the investigating committee has said it will not do more to investigate the incident unless the court orders it to make additional arrests.
The committee has also refused to reveal which military units the three soldiers come from, while Defense Minister Tea Banh has said the assaults are not a military issue.