Khmer National United Party (KNUP) President Nhek Bun Chhay said on Tuesday that he was stripped of his role as a government adviser over a mix-up in which he thought he was talking to a KNUP member, but was conversing with CNRP Vice President Eng Chhay Eang.
In an interview with Voice of America, Mr. Bun Chhay, who was the country’s military commander under the Funcinpec-led government in the 1990s, said he had been ousted after a recording apparently circulated among officials of his telephone call with Mr. Chhay Eang, in which he allegedly promised to support the CNRP in the June 4 local elections in communes fielding no KNUP candidates.
However, Mr. Bun Chhay told VOA that he believed he was talking to Y Kim Eang, executive chief of the KNUP working group in Kompong Thom province’s Baray district, and that he was in fact urging KNUP supporters to back the ruling CPP in communes where his new party had no candidates.
“It was a confusion. On the morning of the 3rd [of June], Mr. Y Kim Eang…called me to ask for advice due to Baray having 16 communes but only seven with [KNUP] standing as commune candidates,” he said, in an interview conducted at his home.
Mr. Bun Chhay said he had attempted to call Mr. Kim Eang back after he finished a meeting, but could not get through. He then rang the Kompong Thom working group, who, he claimed, mistakenly gave him a number for the CNRP vice president.
Once the phone was picked up, Mr. Bun Chhay claimed he said: “Hello Eang” and the pair had a brief conversation in which the KNUP leader urged his supporters to vote for a party, which he claimed he didn’t name, if there was an absence of KNUP candidates.
Mr. Chhay Eang confirmed that he had received a call from Mr. Bun Chhay and said the former military commander had clearly informed him that he would be urging KNUP supporters to vote for the CNRP.
“I just responded by saying ‘thank you,’” Mr. Chhay Eang said.
Rumors had been swirling about the whereabouts of Mr. Bun Chhay since the local elections, in which the KNUP was the only minority party to win a commune.
Prior to Mr. Bun Chhay being stripped of his adviser role—for reasons not made clear by the government—a security guard at his Phnom Penh home last week said that authorities had been “making trouble” at his residence on Election Day.
In the VOA interview, Mr. Bun Chhay sought to quell any rumors about tension at his home, claiming that Brigade 70 was picking up some of his bodyguards so they could return to their base.
Mr. Bun Chhay on Tuesday could not be reached for comment.