Angry at a new Facebook post by an opposition party spokesman and another CNRP lawmaker’s mention of the 1980s government’s deadly “K5 Plan,” Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday used the floor of the National Assembly to warn opposition lawmakers to be more civil.
Returning from a three-month recess from parliament, during which he has used a number of speeches to compare the CNRP to the Khmer Rouge, Mr. Hun Sen was faced with opposition lawmakers eager to have their voices heard during a debate on a trade agreement with Belarus.
“I will only talk about trade and the economy, in order to know what benefits the agreement will bring,” CNRP lawmaker Lim Kimya told the Assembly, before launching into a vaguely political lecture on the economy.
“Why has Cambodia received [trade] preferences from many countries?” he asked. “It’s because our people lived under the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime for more than three years, and then lived under the foreign colonialists, like with K5.”
The “K5 Plan,” organized by the Vietnamese after they installed Mr. Hun Sen and others in power in 1979, used forced labor to build fortifications along the Thai border to stymie a guerrilla movement by the ousted Khmer Rouge.
To carry out the plan, tens of thousands of poor civilians were sent to the border to work, with several thousand dying from malaria, untreated diseases or land mines, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in January.
Mr. Hun Sen rose to tell Mr. Kimya that his allusion to K5 was not appropriate in Cambodia’s new political climate.
“Don’t use freedom of expression for attacks. One speaker said ‘I won’t talk about politics,’ but at the end talked about K5 and [border] maps,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that such issues were not appropriate for a trade law debate.
“It’s not acceptable, your excellency,” he said, referring to Mr. Kimya, before appearing to threaten a fight. “If we need to close the door and stay in here, that’s OK too.”
The prime minister suggested that Mr. Kimya not bring up issues such as the K5 plan in the future if he does not want to discuss politics.
“Please don’t insult,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “I am not standing up to make threats to anybody, but if [you want to] play, do not be angry. If you are angry, do not play.”
Mr. Hun Sen also hit out at CNRP lawmaker and spokesman Yem Ponhearith for a Facebook post suggesting that politicians try to be more openhearted, interpreting the comment as directed at him.
Mr. Hun Sen suggested that in fact it was CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who is currently in France, who is not openhearted, making an apparent reference to Mr. Rainsy’s recent claims that Cambodian university degrees are “worthless.”
“Your Excellency Yem Ponhearith, you gave me instructions on your Facebook, but don’t forget that your boss has insulted the whole country—but you instruct me to open my heart up wider,” the prime minister said.
“The story isn’t over yet. If you want to continue, I can play with [you]. I told Rainsy already, and it’s still in my WhatsApp,” he continued, without explaining the details of his dispute with the opposition leader.
“I can play along in any form, in all seasons and all flavors—hot, cold, sweet, bitter, sour—I can play them all,” he said. “The CPP can play by all forms and all flavors.”
Outside the National Assembly, Mr. Ponhearith said his Facebook message suggesting that politicians have open hearts, which he posted Monday afternoon, was not in fact directed at Mr. Hun Sen, but was a piece of general wisdom.
“I didn’t say anything in reference to any specific person, but…what I wrote was for the collective interest, which means the people’s interest,” he said.
“Politicians have to dare to have wide-open hearts to accept constructive criticism from all.”
The law on trade and economic cooperation with Belarus passed the National Assembly by 109 votes out of the 110 lawmakers present in the 123-seat parliament, validating a trade deal signed in Belarus in April 2014.