Facing threats of retaliation if Prime Minister Hun Sen is met by protests during his first official visit to the U.S. next week, the opposition CNRP said on Monday that it would seek a meeting with government officials this week over security concerns.
Mr. Hun Sen issued a warning on Facebook late last month threatening counterdemonstrations in Cambodia if he is greeted by protests during a summit with fellow Asean leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama in California on February 15 and 16.
Khan Chan Sophal, a prominent pro-CPP Facebook personality and soldier in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, took it a step further in a post last week, suggesting that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha should leave the country to avoid violence.
“Kem Sokha is afraid of CPP supporters holding a demonstration, burning down his house or dragging him out of the car and beating him up, as with the two lawmakers,” he wrote, referring to opposition parliamentarians who were brutally beaten at an anti-CNRP protest outside the National Assembly in October.
“It may be time for Kem Sokha to buy a plane ticket overseas before it happens,” he wrote.
Contacted by telephone on Monday, Mr. Chan Sophal said his post, which he paid to promote on Facebook, was not meant as a threat, but as advice to Mr. Sokha.
“My writing is just expressing my political vision and opinion, not a threat,” Mr. Chan Sophal said.
“What I wrote is just something I am concerned about, so then he should be serious by advising opposition activists in the U.S. and elsewhere to stay calm and let party leaders settle the issue,” he added.
“If such things occur, it is His Excellency Kem Sokha who will be in trouble.”
Mr. Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy director of public affairs, said on Monday that the party would seek to meet with the government this week to discuss the possibility of violent repercussions if people protest against Mr. Hun Sen in the U.S.
“We will be in touch with authorities this week, not only about this posting [by Mr. Chan Sophal] but the overall possibility of violent retribution here from the CPP,” she said in an email.
“Seeing how things turned out in October, we know the CPP is capable and can get away with anything and now again they view peaceful demonstration as an embarrassment to them that they believe should be retaliated against with use of force,” she added.
Mr. Hun Sen also warned of counterdemonstrations in response to protests against him during a trip to Paris late last year. A day later, CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were severely beaten by pro-CPP demonstrators as they attempted to leave the National Assembly.
Speaking to supporters at a restaurant just outside Washington last week, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who remains in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence, advised CNRP activists to refrain from taking part in protests against Mr. Hun Sen.
The Cambodia-America Alliance, an activist group based in the U.S., is nonetheless pressing ahead with plans to protest Mr. Hun Sen’s presence at the summit in Rancho Mirage, California, its president, Vibol Touch, said on Monday.
“We continue to raise our concerns about human rights violations and the attack on freedom and basics of democracy in the Kingdom,” he said in an online message. “Again, whatever happens in the Kingdom is totally Prime Minister’s responsibility.”
Mr. Hun Sen’s son Hun Manith, head of the Defense Ministry’s military intelligence unit, said on Monday he had obtained emails from CNRP officials helping to organize the protests against Mr. Hun Sen.
“As for the planned protest in the US-California against Samdech Prime Minister we have obtained their communication via email asking members to organize the protest,” Major General Manith said in an online message.
Asked whether Mr. Sokha should be concerned about his safety if protests are held in California, Maj. Gen. Manith said the ruling party would do its best to maintain peace among its supporters.
“Khem Sokha should not worry about his safety as [CPP] will try to control our supporters,” he said.
“Many youths are following this closely as their hearts are with Samdech Prime Minister and support him to the end,” Maj. Gen. Manith added.
“We will work hard to control them from coming out…. But there is no guarantee.”