One of CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha’s personal assistants on Thursday said the deputy opposition leader “cannot lead anyone” after Mr. Sokha ridiculed a phone call that she claims to have made warning him about a threat from the fledgling “Khmer for Khmer” reform group.
Answering a question on Radio Free Asia on Wednesday night about the Khmer for Khmer group, which was launched in October by political commentator Kem Ley, Mr. Sokha said the group intended to cause a split between him and CNRP President Sam Rainsy.
“For example, late last night, this group called me. They called and said ‘Don’t you know? Sam Rainsy and [CNRP lawmaker] Long Ry are meeting with people from that side,’ but Sam Rainsy and Long Ry were together with me,” he said.
“This group was the one who said that, meaning that their idea is purely to split us up. But I don’t pay attention to that. Let them do whatever they want to help the nation.”
Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha merged their respective opposition parties into the united CNRP a year before last year’s parliamentary election, which they came within seven seats of winning.
Yet Mr. Ley’s advocacy group, which has been visiting villages around the country, has drawn concern that it will turn into a new party in competition with the CNRP.
On Thursday, Mr. Ley claimed no one in his group had called Mr. Sokha, but said he received information that one of Mr. Sokha’s own assistants had in fact made the phone call.
“I don’t know. I asked my team, and they said nobody called him. I think he lied,” Mr. Ley said of Mr. Sokha. “I heard that someone from the CNRP, Lak Sopheap—a member of the CNRP’s committee—she called him. I heard this last night.”
“This is a game of Kem Sokha, that’s my guess,” Mr. Ley added.
Ms. Sopheap, the assistant to Mr. Sokha, confirmed she had made the call but said it was simply to inform Mr. Sokha that Mr. Rainsy was meeting with Mom Asany, a former CPP and CNRP member who is now part of Mr. Ley’s group.
“Sam Rainsy and Long Ry met Sany because they were afraid Sany would hold demonstrations against the party at its headquarters,” Ms. Sopheap said, using Mr. Asany’s nickname. She added she had not expected the scorn from Mr. Sokha.
“What I told him is true, but then he raised it like that [on the radio],” Ms. Sopheap said. “I believe that he cannot lead anyone if he speaks like that and has such a character.”
Mr. Asany, a common face at opposition protests earlier this year, claims to have been kicked out of the party after alleging that Mr. Sokha had bought a $300,000 car.
Since the rise of Mr. Ley’s group, older photographs of Mr. Asany in CPP regalia and on the campaign trail with Interior Minister Sar Kheng have also spread on social media.
Mr. Ry on Thursday denied the claims he and Mr. Rainsy had ever met with Mr. Asany.
“These are all people who want to break up others,” Mr. Ry said. “Mr. President, Sam Rainsy, and I have no time to meet him. Don’t believe them.”
Muth Chantha, Mr. Sokha’s cabinet chief, confirmed that Ms. Sopheap is one of the deputy opposition leader’s assistants but denied that she made the phone call.
“I assure you Lak Sopheap was not the one who called. She claims that she called, so that is her business,” he said.
“I don’t want a dispute with her right now; you write your news article and we’ll deal with our internal issues.”