Alleging that the SRP criticized the business community in a similar fashion to former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that business owners should treat the opposition as their enemies.
Speaking at the opening of a new toll bridge developed by agribusiness operator and CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat on the outskirts of the capital in Russei Keo district, Mr Hun Sen also confirmed that he would not support any move to allow SRP leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia without facing arrest.
“The opposition party…have claimed that they are market economists and then…regarded all business owners as corrupt and bloodsuckers,” the premier said to a crowd of officials and businessmen gathered at the bridge opening.
“I remember that Pol Pot did it this way by making the rich become poor. But…we want the rich to be the head of our economic train.”
Mr Hun Sen also questioned why the SRP was not investigating the business activities of an SRP lawmaker who he said owned a hotel in Siem Reap City, an apparent reference to SRP spokesman Yim Sovann, who owns the Hotel Cozyna Angkor.
“You accuse others that have made money from corruption, but you have built a hotel,” Mr Hun Sen said. “Doesn’t it come from corruption?”
Mr Sovann yesterday defended the SRP’s economic policies and said that the resulting publicity from the premier’s remarks would only benefit his hotel.
“The SRP supports good businessmen, not bad ones,” he said, adding that he believed only about 2 to 3 percent of Cambodia’s business owners could be considered bad. Mr Sovann added his business was not like others in Cambodia, which he said colluded with the government to illegally log forests, grab land and steal state-owned land.
“What I am doing [with my hotel] is legal…. I have worked in business since I was in school and have earned money from my sweat and blood, not from illegal or corrupt ways,” he said.
Mr Yong Phat said yesterday that he would hand control of his new $42.55 million bridge to the state in 30 years as part of a contract with the government. In the meantime, the prime minister said trucks would be charged roughly $8.50 to cross the bridge while cars would be charged about $1.50.
Agribusiness operator Mong Reththy, CEO of Mong Reththy group, was in attendance at Mr Hun Sen’s speech yesterday and said afterward that the SRP had affected his own business.
“The tiger needs the skin and human beings need dignity…. When they defame the businessman, it is hard for us to talk with international business partners,” he said, adding that he believed opposition scare campaigns made Cambodians think badly of businessmen.
Mr Hun Sen’s speech yesterday came as Mr Rainsy, the opposition leader, published a statement calling on the international community to pressure the government to allow him to return to Cambodia without facing arrest.
Mr Rainsy, who has been in self-imposed exile in France since late last year, was tried in absentia this month over government allegations that he forged public documents and spread disinformation by publishing documents to bolster his claim that Vietnam was encroaching on Cambodian territory in Svay Rieng province. A verdict is due Thursday.
By law, if found guilty of forging a public document, Mr Rainsy could face up to 18 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Any jail sentence handed down would be in addition to the 2-year jail term he received when he was convicted in January of uprooting border posts on the Cambodia-Vietnam border last October.
“My only crime is my unyielding denunciation of corruption and human rights abuses and my unwavering defense of the people who have elected me as their representative,” Mr Rainsy wrote in his open letter to international lawmakers.
“Please help me by asking the government of your respective countries to put pressure on the authorities of Cambodia so that I can resume my parliamentary work in acceptable conditions and continue to promote democracy in my country.”
Mr Rainsy could not be reached yesterday. However, Mr Hun Sen said during his speech that he was unwilling to negotiate Mr Rainsy’s return.
“You are the opposition leader who removed the border posts and then asked foreign countries to pressure me…. You are too weak,” he said, adding that he was not willing to engage with Mr Rainsy because the opposition leader always called him a “puppet.”
“If you refuse to walk into prison, the prison will walk up to you…. I am a puppet, I have no rights to solve this problem.”
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)