Eight Sam Rainsy Party activists holed themselves up in their party’s Phnom Penh headquarters Sunday night after Prime Minister Hun Sen identified them as belonging to an illegal force, Sam Rainsy Party officials said.
Speaking Sunday at the Interior Ministry, where Sam Rainsy’s erstwhile Alliance of Democrats partner Prince Norodom Sirivudh was being inaugurated as co-minister, Hun Sen said the force numbered in the hundreds and compared them to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, responsible for the 2000 attack on Phnom Penh.
Without directly naming Sam Rainsy or his party, Hun Sen invited the alleged militants to turn themselves in, saying that their confessions would serve as evidence against their leader but promising them clemency.
By Monday morning, the number of nervous activists at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters had grown to at least 20.
Although the government had not released more names from the list of so-called militants, opposition party officials said that the names the premier had mentioned all belonged to the party’s National Defense, Veterans Affairs, Demobilization and Public Security Committee.
Fearing accusations of plotting violent rebellion, other men who said they were only participants in the committee gathered at the opposition headquarters and said they would stay there until the climate improved.
They said they would confess to nothing as they were guilty of nothing.
The Sam Rainsy Party calls the committee’s members “spokesmen,” and organizes them by the government’s military regions. Their purpose is merely to inform the party’s leadership about military activities around the country, said the committee’s chairman and Kompong Cham province Parliamentarian Cheam Channy.
The organization, also known as Committee No 14, was founded in 2000, he said.
“As a parliamentarian, I should have the right to know the living standards of soldiers and the levels of corruption so that I can report to the National Assembly,” Cheam Channy said.
Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang compared the committee to a “shadow ministry,” modeled on those of British and Australian opposition parties, that scrutinize their corresponding ministry’s performance.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, dismissed the opposition party’s claims of innocence Monday.
“This is the accused saying that they are spokesmen, but in reality, they want to form armed forces, ” he said.
The group’s organization, ordered according to military regions, proved that it was martially inclined, he added.
He also said the Interior Ministry is preparing to file court complaints against the so-called rebels.
The Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers issued a statement Monday evening decrying Cambodia’s “U-turn toward dictatorship” since the formation of the new government.
It said that the new government offered ministry positions to five of its parliamentarians—Cheam Channy, Ahmad Yahya, Kieng Vang, Ngo Sovann, Yim Sovann—and opposition Senator Chao Phally.
The invitations sometimes were accompanied by threats, the statement said. It said the allegation of an illegal force was the fulfillment of a threat against Cheam Channy, who said he had been approached by both the CPP and Funcinpec for the job.
All offers for government positions—“carrots and sticks”—were declined, according to the law makers.
Sam Rainsy remained in France Monday. Party officials said his return date has not been determined.