Government Assigns Bodyguards to Sam Rainsy

Crowning the newfound detente be­tween the government and the op­position party, a 12-man unit of arm­­ed Interior Ministry bodyguards has been assigned to en­sure op­position leader Sam Rain­sy’s safety, officials said Wednes­day.

The bodyguards, equipped with four AK-47 assault rifles and two K59 pistols, took up residence at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters on Tues­­day, marki­ng the first time that arm­ed men have been as­signed to pro­tect op­position figures.

Opposition officials said the firepower was necessary to protect their newly returned leader, though the government was no long­er their con­cern when it came to the issue of security.

“There are groups of people that are afraid to lose their benefits in the 2008 [national] election,” said Meng Ri­ta, opposition party acting sec­retary-general.

Government spokesman and Mini­­ster of Information Khieu Kan­har­ith said the security detail was dis­­patched following a request from the opposition.

Sam Rainsy’s call to change the country’s electoral quota from two thirds of National Assembly seats to just half of the seats plus one may have earned him enemies in some quarters, Khieu Kanharith said.

Though denying that he had re­quested the bodyguards, Sam Rain­sy did admit by telephone that their presence made him “feel warm.”

“My colleagues asked the gov­ern­ment to take care of my security. I am not concerned myself,” he said.

Opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the force showed that the government was now interested in Sam Rainsy’s well-being, and said the presence of the bodyguards was a “positive sign.”

“It is a neutral government force. They can protect our security,” he said.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections in Cam­bodia, said he was not im­press­ed.

In 2006, the government should be focused on taking weapons out of politics, not putting more in, Koul Panha said.

“The government should be making the country free from weapons,” he said.


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