Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision not to try opposition activist Sok Yoeun was based solely on humanitarian reasons, officials said Sunday, amid suspicion from the Sam Rainsy Party that the premier had ulterior motives.
“We think about humanity and the opposition party should thank [Hun Sen] and not be ungrateful,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.
He said Sok Yoeun, who is being detained in Thailand and whom Cambodian officials allege tried to assassinate Hun Sen in 1998, is in ill health.
A letter released Friday from King Norodom Sihanouk thanked Hun Sen for allowing Thailand to send Sok Yoeun to Finland, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has offered him refugee status and has resettled his family.
Cambodian authorities had demanded Sok Yoeun be tried in Cambodia for his alleged involvement in a 1998 rocket-propelled grenade attack on Hun Sen’s motorcade in Siem Reap town. No one in the prime minister’s entourage was injured, but one bystander was killed.
After the attack, Sok Yoeun fled to Thailand, where he was arrested in 1999 for illegally entering the country.
A Thai appeals court on Nov 28 ordered Sok Yoeun to be extradited to Cambodia to face charges—a move that was widely criticized by human rights groups, including Amnesty International.
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Meng Ritha said Sunday that he believed Hun Sen’s decision was based on pressure from the international community.
“Hun Sen agreed to foreigners’ requests, as he needs support from them to help push for a coalition government,” Meng Ritha said.
“Sok Yoeun is not guilty and should have been released a long time ago,” he said.
Eng Chhay Eang, secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party, said he too believed Hun Sen was bowing to international pressure. Still, he was pleased with the decision.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, on Sunday dismissed their claims, saying the decision was for humanitarian reasons.