A Sam Rainsy Party activist from Battambang province has claimed to be leading a defection of about 40 opposition activists over to the new government.
Long Serey said Tuesday that he and his fellow defectors would arrive en masse at either the Interior Ministry or the Defense Ministry that afternoon, but later postponed the visit.
He then said the defection would take place today.
Reports of opposition party defectors have circulated in the wake of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Sunday declaration that the Sam Rainsy Party was recruiting a rebel force that he likened to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
Hun Sen invited the so-called militants to surrender, offering them pardons in exchange for courtroom testimony against their leaders.
Opposition party officials have denied the existence of any Sam Rainsy Party-led militia.
They said their National Defense, Veterans’ Affairs, Demobilization and Public Security Committee, an aboveboard military watchdog, is being vilified in thelatest CPP attempt to break their party.
On Sunday, Hun Sen identified eight members of the rebel force. Opposition party officials, and some of those named said that the eight belonged to their defense committee, a network of information gatherers, or “spokesmen,” organized by military regions.
Long Serey, who said he had been a deputy spokesman for Military Region 5, claimed Tuesday that the committee’s chief for the region, Kim Visoth, had made known the opposition’s military aspirations.
Long Serey said that he and his fellow defectors had no interest in causing unrest. “We are poor. We are facing difficult times. We want peace,” he said.
Kim Visoth could not be reached Tuesday, but Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang distanced his party from any defectors claiming to have been recruited for rebellion.
“I urge the government authorities to arrest anyone who uses the party title to claim that they have orders from the party to recruit armed forces. Although they are SRP members, the party does not have any policy to recruit armed forces,” he said.
Eng Chhay Eang said he knew Long Serey to be a reputed fraud.
“He belonged to the Sam Rainsy Party but only as a member. The Sam Rainsy Party is very open. Everyone can join the party and have the party identity card.”
Opposition activist Ung Bunsom arrived from Battambang with his two sons at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters in Phnom Penh Tuesday morning. He said he had worked for an NGO run by Long Serey, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association.
On Monday night, Long Serey coerced him to give names of opposition party members, Ung Bunsom said.
“Long Serey came to my house and forced me to write out a list of 37 people in Military Region 5. He said that if I refused he would have me arrested. I was afraid. That’s why I wrote,” Ung Bunsom said. Long Serey also ordered him to declare himself a former Funcinpec supporter and to defect to the government, Ung Bunsom said.
He and his sons will never return to Battambang, he said, citing fear of arrest.
Several officials at the ministries of Defense and Interior said they had received no information on Long Serey and his defectors.
But Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak welcomed them, promising respectful treatment in exchange for confessions.
“They are the victims,” he said.
However, there will be no leniency after the Military Court issues arrest warrants, Khieu Sopheak warned.
Incoming Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday that the opposition party defectors had approached associates of Hun Sen, not the ministries. The defectors, he said, numbered between 20 and 40 and had given information on some 100 fugitive Sam Rainsy Party members.
As for Sam Rainsy’s so-called rebel force, Khieu Kanharith said that there is no indication it has planned an attack.
However, such a “shadow ministry” could “disturb the psychology of the army,” he said.
He also added that General Mol Roeup, head of the RCAF’s intelligence division, is on the case and the government is getting hourly updates.
But Mol Roeup said otherwise.
“Let the authorities finish their work,” he said. “I don’t know any of the details. After they finish their work, you can know better.”
Ney Thol, director of the Military Court, said late Tuesday afternoon that his office had not received any government complaints against an illegal force and had not prepared any arrest warrants.
Eng Chhay Eang played down the intrigue. “This is the strategy used against the Sam Rainsy Party year after year. This is not something strange,” he said. “They want to split the SRP. The party is not afraid of activists defecting because only the bad members would leave.”
The opposition party announced Tuesday that Sam Rainsy will return from a tour of Europe and the US, where he will attend that nation’s Democratic Party convention, on Aug 2.
(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)