Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Sunday that members of a so-called militant wing of the Sam Rainsy Party have 15 days to turn themselves in to authorities without facing punishment, despite a request by King Norodom Sihanouk that they be pardoned.
Meanwhile, two opposition party members, who last week confessed on television that they belonged to that militant wing, are said to be hiding from their government handlers.
The group that Hun Sen referred to as an opposition party “shadow ministry,” also known as Committee No 14, which monitors the activities of the military and related government offices, according to Sam Rainsy Party officials and political observers. Its aboveground network of “spokesmen” report to party leadership on improprieties, they said.
In a July 18 speech, Hun Sen likened the group to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters. Government officials have said that those who do not confess and testify against their leaders will be arrested.
“The ultimatum is 15 days from today. When the deadline arrives, all of those hiding in the party headquarters or underground, we will go get them,” Hun Sen said in a radio-broadcasted speech from Kompong Cham province.
“They’re not really spokesmen. They’re spies. The word ‘spy’ is enough to banish their party from the National Assembly,” the premier said.
Five so-called spies, who claimed to represent 71 members, confessed Friday in Banteay Meanchey province. Six confessed Thursday in Phnom Penh.
As for the King’s pardon request, made after he received an appeal for intervention by 16 members of Committee No 14, Hun Sen issued a written statement requesting that a court decide the suspects’ fate.
“I think that is the only way for the Kingdom of Cambodia to achieve rule of law,” his response read.
In Sunday’s speech, Hun Sen also warned embassies against offering asylum to the alleged militants.
“Those people can run to embassies, but make sure they don’t come out…. The embassies that help those people will be regarded as having committed illegal acts,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen’s accusations provoked criticism in Washington.
“Hun Sen has engaged in intimidating rhetoric, including a far-fetched allegation that Sam Rainsy Party members are organizing an armed insurgency designed to topple the government,” Agence France-Presse reported US Senator John McCain saying Friday.
“We are watching this situation closely, and strongly urge Hun Sen to retract his rhetorical attacks,” McCain said.
AFP also reported McCain saying that opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is now in the US, “has solid reason to fear for his safety upon his return to Cambodia,” scheduled for Aug 2.
Back in Phnom Penh, two of the six men presented to reporters as contrite opposition party militants at the Ministry of Information on Thursday are reportedly on the lam.
Brothers Ung Sak Peseth and Ung Sak Pisey ran for help later the same day, their father Ung Bunsom, 60, said Sunday.
He said that his sons had joined defection engineer Long Serey, who had belonged to Committee No 14 but also worked for RCAF intelligence chief Mol Roeup, out of fear.
“My sons said that Hun Sen is a very powerful man, so even if you run across the country he’ll know where you are, and he’ll get you,” Ung Bunsom said.
But, he added, the two brothers quickly abandoned their supposed government protectors out of fear as well.
He said they were “especially afraid of Long Serey’s commander” Mol Roeup, who told them they would be assigned more tasks after their confessions.
After fleeing the government handlers, the brothers sought protection from the UN human rights office and then local rights group Licadho before going underground, Ung Bunsom said Sunday.
His sons did not want to go to a local NGO because they could no longer trust Cambodians, he said, but they had not been helped by foreigners.
“We contacted the UN, but they refused to let them stay,” Ung Bunsom said. “I called them on the phone and asked them, ‘Why can’t you help my sons?’ They said, ‘I cannot tell you why, but we cannot help them.’”
Margo Picken, director of the UN office, said Sunday that the men had contacted her organization Thursday night. She said they had not been turned away, but advised on how to get help.
The men then went to Licadho, but fled after a Cambodian Licadho official asked for Mol Roeup’s phone number, Ung Bunsom said.
Licadho president Kek Galabru said Sunday that a Licadho official asked one of the asylum seekers for Mol Roeup’s number after the man said in an interview that the intelligence chief had instructed him to call if he needed anything.
The Licadho official asked for Mol Roeup’s number to ascertain whether the man was telling the truth, Galabru said. Galabru said she called Ung Bunsom later to clarify the matter.
Defection engineer Long Serey denied Sunday that the two brothers abandoned him. He said they had only gone to visit their wives in Battambang province.
Long Serey also denied having met Mol Roeup before Thursday, when Mol Roeup coached him how to deliver his confession to the press. Regardless, the confession was sincere, he said.