Pen Sovann, who briefly served as prime minister for the People’s Republic of Kampuchea during the communist 1980s, announced Monday that he has become the latest addition to Kem Sokha’s fledgling Human Rights Party.
Pen Sovann said by telephone that he has quit his own National Sustaining Party to join the Human Rights Party, as he believes Kem Sokha, the former president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, is a nationalist who can introduce real democracy.
“I have studied Kem Sokha’s biography and I understand his conscience. He is a nationalist,” Pen Sovann said.
“Kem Sokha tried to explain the problems of injustice to the people. People and the authorities at the rural level support him,” Pen Sovann said.
“People want a new leader [of Cambodia] to implement a just law.”
Pen Sovann was fired as prime minister of the Hanoi-backed Phnom Penh regime in 1981 and imprisoned in Vietnam for 10 years. Historians maintain that he was arrested for criticizing the Vietnamese army’s continued presence in Cambodia.
Kem Sokha expressed a warm welcome on Monday for his new recruit.
“Pen Sovann is a nationalist who devoted himself in 1979. He opposed the Vietnamese ideas,” Kem Sokha said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Pen Sovann is free to join whichever party he wants.
“Pen Sovann has no influence over the authorities and the people,” Cheam Yeap said. “Just because a person hates the Vietnamese it doesn’t mean he is a good guy,” he added.
Pen Sovann said he had scrapped a previous plan to join the SRP, as party President Sam Rainsy does not listen to internal calls for reform.
Sam Rainsy said he respected Pen Sovann’s decision to join the HRP but added that the former premier has no clear political views. He also said SRP members objected to the possibility of Pen Sovann joining the party because they feared he worked as a spy for a foreign country.
Sam Rainsy declined to name the foreign country in question.
Pen Sovann said Sam Rainsy’s claims were absurd.
“I am not a [foreign] slave,” he said. “Sam Rainsy twisted the truth,” he added.