Government officials denied Thursday the kidnapping of opposition party parliamentarian Lon Phon was politically motivated and have joined Sam Rainsy Party officials in demanding a swift investigation.
Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter Thursday to acting National Assembly President Nguon Nhel and maintained that the abduction was done to force a ransom from Lon Phon’s family.
“There is no sign that this abduction is relating to politics,” Hun Sen wrote, citing reports from investigators dispatched to the crime scene.
He pledged authorities would do all possible to capture those responsible. “The government condemns this cheap act and regards the abduction…as a serious crime,” Hun Sen wrote.
But government critics say Lon Phon’s disappearance is the latest in a series of incidents targeting Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec members.
Both the London-based humanitarian organization Amnesty International and the Khmer Institute of Democracy have weighed in on the side of opposition party members, condemning the abduction as likely political.
The Battambang province parliamentarian was taken from his central Phnom Penh home Wednesday evening by four armed men wearing military-style uniforms, party officials say.
Sam Rainsy cabinet chief Phi Thach said Thursday it is no coincidence Lon Phon’s kidnapping closely follows the arrest of two other opposition party members—including one from Battambang province—in connection with last year’s B-40 rocket attack in Siem Reap.
“All three cases are apparently connected,” said Sam Rainsy parliamentarian Monh Siyonn.
Additionally, a senior army officer who described himself as a longtime friend of Lon Phon and of no political affiliation, said Thursday there was a “70 percent” chance that the kidnapping was politically motivated.
Some Cambodian and foreign observers noted this was the first abduction of a member of parliament since the 1993 UN elections and suggested it was done to send a message to opponents of the government.
Five Funcinpec military officers were called by the government for questioning last month, also in connection with the Siem Reap rocket attack, which has been characterized by Hun Sen’s supporters as an assassination attempt on the prime minister.
The officers were cleared of any suspicions following party contacts with the army’s intelligence chief, Mol Roeup. Additionally, former Funcinpec resistance commander Nhiek Bun Chhay, now a senator, said his house was ransacked and his wife beaten by unidentified armed men on Sept 13.
However, other government officials and some diplomatic sources say the motive remains unclear for the abduction of Lon Phon. He briefly addressed a crowd of several hundred at Monday’s land rights protest organized by the opposition party in front of the National Assembly, close associates said.
Police say Lon Phon, who is involved in hotels and gem dealing with his wife, perhaps proved a target for kidnappers.
Khuon Sophon, chief of Phnom Penh’s criminal police, said Thursday a demand for a $400,000 ransom had been called into Lon Phon’s family. But the ransom request was not confirmed by either party officials or Lon Phon’s bodyguard.