Man Arrested Over Threat to Kill Border Researcher

Police from the Interior Ministry’s central security department on Saturday arrested the man who last month threatened to “shoot the head of Sok Touch,” a scholar recruited by the government to research its contentious work demarcating the border with Vietnam, an official said Sunday.

Phong Seiha, 27, was seized at the Poipet International Checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province at about 5 p.m. after he was apprehended by Thai police for working in Thailand without the necessary documentation, according to National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith.

“We arrested the suspect at the border while he was crossing the Poipet International Checkpoint to return home from Thailand,” Lieutenant General Chantharith said.

“We cooperated with the Thai authorities and we asked them to check for the suspect. A week later, they informed us that the suspect was staying illegally in Thailand, and we arrested him after he was seized [in Thailand],” the spokesman added.

Lt. Gen. Chantharith said that Mr. Seiha, from Prey Veng province, was now being held at the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh, and that police planned to hold him for 48 hours to question him about the threat against Mr. Touch.

“We are now questioning him to collect the answers, and he has already confessed to being guilty,” he said.

On August 28, Mr. Seiha allegedly used a Facebook account under the name “Sey Hu” to post a photograph of a pistol and 10 neatly arranged bullets, accompanied by a message threatening Mr. Touch for supporting the government’s position regarding border issues.

“The gun is being kept to shoot the head of Sok Touch, the doctor with the dog brain, the doctor who changes history, the doctor who sold his brain to the Yuon,” the message read, using a term for Vietnamese that can be considered derogatory.

Mr. Touch heads the international relations institute at the state-run Royal Academy of Cambodia and was tasked last month with researching the border issue amid claims by the opposition that Cambodian territory has been ceded to Vietnam.

Since taking up the job, Mr. Touch has criticized CNRP claims that the government had been using border maps other than those whose exclusive use is mandated by the Constitution, leading to some backlash online from opposition supporters.

He has said his plan is to use the government’s border maps to inspect whether posts had been planted in the correct positions along the 1,228-km Vietnamese frontier, a process he estimated could take up to two years.

Contacted by telephone Sunday, Mr. Touch said he had never met Mr. Seiha and had no particular opinion about his arrest.

“I received the information about the arrest of the suspect but I never knew this guy,” Mr. Touch said. “I am not able to say that I welcome this or not, but I only want the authorities to take action and work according to the law.”

Mr. Touch said last week that he had also received threats via the Internet messaging system Viber and was cooperating with police although he did not file a formal complaint with them.

Mr. Seiha is not the first person to be accused of making death threats against a prominent person on Facebook in Cambodia. Pheng Vannak, the deputy chief of training at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissariat was accused by users of the social networking site of threatening deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s life in 2013.

An image of a post allegedly made by Mr. Vannak, who runs a popular pro-government Facebook page, went viral, showing a photograph of a gun and seven bullets, along with a message threatening to target increasingly vital parts of Mr. Sokha’s body.

Mr. Vannak denied responsibility for the post, which was quickly taken down, claiming that another person had made a separate account using his name and image.

He was questioned by police but never arrested. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sunday that the difference between the two cases was that Mr. Sokha did not cooperate with authorities.

“I wish to state that the authorities didn’t make any arrest of that suspect because Kem Sokha did not complete the procedures with the police to find the suspect,” he said.

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