Military IDs Man Who Announced ‘Coup’ Plot

The military has identified the man who on Sunday claimed there were plans for a coup d’etat to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday, with the alleged plotter’s Facebook profile appearing to show him in a  Cambodian army uniform.

Sitting in front of a camouflage banner in a video uploaded to YouTube on Sunday, the man claims his “unit” in Cambodia’s southwest wants the rest of the country to prepare for a coming coup to overthrow the “dictatorial regime led by Hun Sen.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 10.58.33 AM
A screenshot of a video uploaded to YouTube on Sunday claiming there were plans for a coup d’etat against Prime Minister Hun Sen

Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said the man had been identified.

“We will search the lists of both the military and the civil [service], but for now, we have uncovered his identity,” General Sucheat said, declining to say more about the man’s identity, location or profession.

“It’s no problem, he can’t run away,” he said. “Please don’t ask a lot of questions. We are working now.”

National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy also said he could not provide the man’s name or say whether he was a member of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

“Now we are researching this case, and while we are researching it, we cannot show the suspect’s identity or comment on the details of this problem,” he said.

However, local media on Wednesday named the man as Som Vichea, while a Facebook profile under the same name includes photographs of the man in the YouTube video, wearing an RCAF uniform and mingling with other soldiers.

The Facebook profile was very active until Sunday, featuring multiple posts per day, many of which accused both Mr. Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy of secretly being Vietnamese agents.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached on Wednesday. However, an article published by the RCAF’s in-house news service quoted the spokesman appealing to the public “not to believe or participate” in the coup appeal made in the video.

“Kirth Chantharith appealed to all Facebook users to be more careful, especially about sharing this announcement, which would amount to supporting this activity, too,” the article said.

On Wednesday evening, the Denmark-based Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) released a statement claiming that the man in the video was one of its members, but denying that he was calling for a coup.

“The Khmer National Liberation Front would like to deny all the accusations that a man who is a member of the Khmer National Liberation Front announced that the armed forces should rise up and execute a coup d’etat to topple the government,” the statement said.

“The meaning of what he said was just an appeal to people of all levels to be aware of the nation’s problems occurring under…a new kind of Vietnamese colonialism and was the personal expression of this man pained by the murder of Kem Ley,” it said. “The goals of the Khmer National Liberation Front are to debate in a peaceful way.”

Kem Ley, a popular political analyst, was shot dead in Phnom Penh on July 10.

Khun Chanto, a spokesman for KNLF, which Mr. Hun Sen has labeled a terrorist organization, said the man in the video had long been a member of the group.

“The man who talked on YouTube is named Som Sovannara, but he is living abroad,” he said. “When the Khmer National Liberation Front was established in December 2012, I saw that his name was on the member list at that time.”

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