Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday appeared to criticize deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha for holing up in the CNRP’s headquarters and using supporters to defend his “illegal activities,” saying that he was nevertheless satisfied with the arrangement.
Mr. Sokha has been inside his party’s Phnom Penh base of operations since May 26, when armed police showed up at the building in Meanchey district, claiming to have an arrest warrant for his failure to turn up in court.
“If you want to sleep in a place with a 4-meter-by-4-meter room, do it,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a speech to inaugurate a temple at a Buddhist pagoda in Takeo province, without naming the CNRP vice president directly. “No one cares about it.”
Mr. Hun Sen said he believed people would understand who he was talking about given recent events.
“I am convinced that a number of political organizations or humanitarian organizations should not allow one individual or two people to destroy a political party or humanitarian organization by defending the illegal activities of that person,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “A wrongdoer must show up and be responsible. For example, an ill-behaved monk must acknowledge that he is an ill-behaved monk and not take the whole pagoda to defend him, as it will ruin the pagoda’s name.”
A group of opposition lawmakers and supporters have been keeping vigil outside the CNRP’s headquarters in an effort to protect Mr. Sokha, though no more arrest attempts have been made.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said last week that police had not arrested Mr. Sokha for fear of sparking social chaos and could choose not to arrest him if they feared it could lead to bloodshed.
Yet senior CNRP officials have said they do not believe the remarks were a sign that the government was backing down from arresting their deputy leader.
Mr. Sokha’s decision to remain in Cambodia in the face of an arrest threat contrasts with party leader Sam Rainsy’s decision in November to flee to France after the government reignited an old 2-year jail sentence for him. Observers were divided over whether the government would actually follow through on the threat, and Mr. Rainsy pledged to face it head on—before announcing at the last minute that he would not return.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann could not be reached on Monday.