Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and a former thorn in the side of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was accused on Monday of flattering the government and veering into Cambodian politics.
The criticism comes after Kem Sokha wrote to Hun Sen on Thursday, speaking highly of his efforts to promote democracy and requesting a meeting to discuss land disputes.
“National and international opinions have noticed that Samdech [Hun Sen] is showing positive opinion to strengthen democracy and promote human rights in Cambodia,” wrote Kem Sokha, who was released from prison last month after being jailed on defamation charges filed by Hun Sen.
Kem Sokha also reported to Hun Sen that a march to Kompong Speu province organized by the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia earlier this month was successfully completed, “under careful protection, security and order from our government authorities.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, which is a member of AFEC, said Kem Sokha’s letter was inappropriate.
“It is not necessary to praise the government. NGOs are only a watchdog to monitor the government,” he said.
He added that Kem Sokha’s reputation will be undermined if the meeting with the prime minister does not have a positive impact on people involved in land disputes.
In the letter, Kem Sokha asked for himself and members of unnamed unions and associations to be allowed to meet the prime minister to provide information and ideas about land disputes.
Khieu Sorn, a senior Funcinpec lawmaker, warned Kem Sokha not to overstep his role as an NGO worker.
“Kem Sokha does all my work,” he said, accusing Kem Sokha of abusing the Constitution by getting involved in politics. “He is not a lawmaker,” Khieu Sorn added.
Kem Sokha was reportedly in Australia on Monday, but CCHR spokesman Ou Virak said discussions between Hun Sen and NGO workers provide better mutual understanding.
He added that NGO workers are more likely to tell Hun Sen the truth than government officials are.
He denied that Kem Sokha is hoping to consult Hun Sen about the possibility of forming his own political party, as Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh had claimed on Saturday.
“[Kem Sokha] didn’t have such an idea,” Ou Virak said.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith welcomed Kem Sokha’s request.
“NGOs are only a whistleblower, they are not systematically criticizing the government. Dialogue must continue,” he said.