A man apprehended by participants at a rally in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Sunday after he was spotted carrying a concealed pistol, signed himself into Calmette Hospital by listing his occupation as “Samdech Bodyguard,” in apparent reference to one of the three leaders of the CPP: Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim or National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Chaos erupted on Sunday when the armed man was confronted at the opposition-aligned Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) rally, where several leading opposition CNRP members were in attendance, leading to fears the man, identified as 38-year-old Poeurng Choeurn, was intending an assassination attempt.
But conflicting accounts emerged after the incident about the identity of Poeurng Choeurn, who was wearing a press identification card and had been taking photographs of monks at the rally before he pushed to the front of the crowd and was wrestled to the ground and disarmed.
According to his press card, Poeurng Choeurn is a reporter for the Phnom Penh Municipal Information Department’s [MID] defunct “Mid.P.P” news agency website. MID Director Khuth Samkhann confirmed he is an employee and said he did not know why he was carrying a gun at the rally.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith also denied that the Information Ministry sent any armed men to opposition-aligned rallies. But deputy Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Narin later told reporters that Poeurng Choeurn was in fact an undercover police agent who had permission to carry a weapon because he was on assignment at Freedom Park.
Yet staff from the Cambodia Daily on Monday saw the signed, handwritten check-in details of Poeurng Choeurn at Calmette Hospital, in which he stated that his occupation was a “Samdech bodyguard.”
Samdech is the high honorific title largely reserved for use by Mr. Hun Sen, Mr. Sim and Mr. Heng Samrin.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith declined to comment on Poeurng Choeurn’s links to the security forces, as did deputy Phnom Penh police chief Mr. Narin despite having said he was a police agent the day before.
Mr. Samkhann, the director of MID, insisted Monday that Poeurng Choeurn was an MID reporter and said that as far as he was aware, his employee was not acting on behalf of any other covert agency.
“Our institution is not a spy agency, we work like any other newspaper and TV reporters, we have 46 officials working in each of the nine districts in the city and we cover the news and take videos of events such as district governors’ meetings, municipal authorities cleaning the sewers and other City Hall activities,” he said.
“I was surprised that Mr. Chuon Narin claimed he worked as a police spy agent since I do not know anything about this, so perhaps the police made a mistake or got it wrong,” he said.
“I do not know whether he has another job [as a police agent], I just know that he was carrying a gun during the rally and I am shocked as I have never seen that he had a gun before.”
Mr. Samkhann said he had heard that Poeurng Choeurn was no longer in Cambodia as he had been sent to Vietnam for medical treatment due to injuries received at the hands of the crowd.
However, medical staff at Calmette Hospital said that Poeurng Choeurn had only minor injuries and had checked himself out at 12:20 p.m.—less than three hours after he was admitted on Sunday.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that they had received no updates on why the man had been armed at the rally, while CITA president and outspoken CNRP supporter Roung Chhun, who led the rally, said his organization remained in the dark.
“We still have many doubts about the suspect and we are still not sure whether he was trying to kill me or whether he intended to do anything during the rally,” he said.