‘Coup’ Plotter Says He Wants People to Resist the ‘Regime’

The man the military is investigating for announcing an impending coup d’etat against Prime Minister Hun Sen said from Canada on Thursday that he had no plans for an armed movement and only wished to encourage people “to rise up against the dictatorial regime.”

In a video on Sunday, Som Sovannara, a member of the Khmer National Liberation Front, a group described by Mr. Hun Sen as a terrorist organization, said he was part of a unit in Cambodia’s “southwest” and asked others to be prepared for the coming coup.

Som Sovannara, in a screenshot from a video posted to YouTube
Som Sovannara, in a screenshot from a video posted to YouTube

Speaking by telephone on Thursday, he said his warning to other units and government ministries to stand ready “to liberate the nation from Hun Sen’s dictatorial regime” was not a call to arms and was only intended to stoke resistance to the government.

“I don’t have any intention to carry out a coup d’etat against the government, and the meaning of what I said was just to remind all Cambodian children to rise up against the dictatorial regime,” Mr. Sovannara said.

“I did this by myself as a student and a Cambodian child who loves the country and who loves democracy, because I do not want Cambodia to become a country under the control of a communist country.”

Mr. Sovannara, 35, said he believes Cambodia is under the thumb of Vietnam’s communist government, and on the Facebook page where his original video was posted, he described both Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy as agents under Vietnam’s employ.

He said he was a soldier based at Preah Vihear temple on Cambodia’s border with Thailand between 2007 and 2011, but only worked as an engineer and did some computer work. In 2009, he said, the military sent him to study in Vietnam for six months.  

“The reason I stopped being a soldier in 2011 was because I observed that the inside of the military is partisan and only serves the ruling party—the CPP—and that the documents that the high-ranking officers use to contact each other are in Vietnamese,” he said.

Mr. Sovannara said he had studied for a bachelor’s degree in  economics in Thailand from 2013 until earlier this year, after having joined the KNLF in 2012. He moved to Canada to study for a master’s degree in economics earlier this year, he said, and claimed to be on a scholarship.

“On October 23, 2016, we’ll create a government in exile in Denmark,” he added of the KNLF, which is based in that country. October 23 is the anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, which ended Cambodia’s civil war in 1991.

Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat could not be reached on Thursday. Srey Doek, commander of the military’s third division based in Preah Vihear province, said he had not heard of Mr. Sovannara being based there. “He’s not my officer,” he said.

Meas Sam Ol, director of the personnel department at the Defense Ministry, declined to comment on whether Mr. Sovannara had been in the military. National Military police spokesman Eng Hy said only that authorities were continuing to search for Mr. Sovannara.


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