Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong will file a defamation lawsuit against SRP President Sam Rainsy over comments made by the opposition leader at a ceremony last week to mark the 33rd anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, a foreign ministry spokesman said Sunday.
“We will file a complaint to the court [today] against Sam Rainsy’s accusation,” said Sin Bunthoeun, director of information and documentation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“It is a political accusation aimed at taking political benefit,” he said of Sam Rainsy’s remarks, which were made in a speech to more than 500 people at the Choeung Ek killing fields Thursday.
Hor Namhong “was just a victim,” Sin Bunthoeun said, adding that if Sam Rainsy apologized publicly, the suit might be dropped. He said Hor Namhong has retained Kar Savuth as counsel.
Kar Savuth, who declined to comment Sunday, is also the current co-counsel for Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, who is now facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
In his speech, Sam Rainsy denounced government officials for their alleged ties to the Khmer Rouge regime. He did not name names in his speech, but he did mention the titles of ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs.
Hor Namhong has long said that he and his family were prisoners under the Khmer Rouge at the camp known as Boeng Trabek. He has won two previous lawsuits arising from comments made about his time there.
Sam Rainsy was in Montreal, Canada, and could not be reached for comment Sunday.
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said Sam Rainsy hadn’t meant to defame anyone in his speech Thursday. The proper adjudicator of such historical disputes is the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, he said, not Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Leading CPP figures rallied around Hor Namhong on Sunday.
“Sam Rainsy is a talkative person. He cannot say whatever he thinks. Freedom must be under the law,” CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said by e-mail: “I think it’s correct, because if Hor [Namhong] did not react, many might think Sam Rainsy’s slander is true.”
Ministry of Finance Cabinet Chief Chou Vichith declined to comment on whether Minister of Finance Keat Chhon would file a suit in regards to Sam Rainsy’s comments.
Keat Chhon could not be reached for comment Sunday, but in response to a challenge from Sam Rainsy about his Khmer Rouge ties during a December 2006 National Assembly debate, the minister said he would explain his past to the Cambodian people if called to.
“All the things I did, I will respond to history and the nation,” he told reporters at the time.
Documentation Center of Cambodia Director Youk Chhang said Sunday the ECCC could help put to rest issues concerning the nation’s contentious history.
“One should look to the ECCC as a mediator of all suspicions,” Youk Chhang said.