Prime Minister Hun Sen called Tuesday for candidates for the premiership to renounce dual citizenship, saying that their foreign passports offered an escape route from difficulties in Cambodia.
Speaking at a graduating ceremony at the National Institute for Education in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said foreign citizenship had allowed Cambodian political leaders to evade justice.
“We cannot convict them because when [the courts] convict them they escape,” Hun Sen said, adding that his remarks did not concern foreign passport holders in his own government, such as Education Minister Kol Pheng or Finance Ministry Secretary of State Kong Vibol.
“The prime minister candidates should renounce dual citizenship,” Hun Sen said. “Will they dare do that? They are not brave,” he added.
SRP President Sam Rainsy and NRP President Prince Norodom Ranariddh hold both Cambodian and French citizenship.
Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that he had obtained French citizenship after fleeing the Khmer Rouge and that there was no law preventing candidates for Prime Minister from holding foreign passports.
“I will comply with the law,” Sam Rainsy said.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha said that Hun Sen’s remarks showed that he is afraid that parties such as the NRP and SRP would unite in opposing the CPP in the forthcoming election.
“The intention is to prevent us,” Muth Channtha said.
Hun Sen added in his speech that one of his own grandchildren was a US national and that he was worried the child could be conscripted into the military.
“I am concerned for my grandchild that when the US is at war he will be conscripted,” Hun Sen said.
The US Embassy said Tuesday that the US ceased conscription in 1973 and had no plans to revive the policy.
Hun Sen also threatened in his speech to reveal the contents of a recorded telephone conversation in which an unnamed party to a divorce is heard negotiating the sale of land in Mondolkiri province.
“He asked to have a land title made but he has a divorce case. He should not be allowed to sell the land,” he said.
“He has land in Mondolkiri and claims he is clean. Do not provoke problems otherwise Hun Sen will play the voice for you to listen,” he added.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said later that the telephone conversation referred to by Hun Sen had not been intercepted through technological surveillance.
He added that Cambodia is incapable of intercepting telephone calls through electronic means.
“Technically speaking, financially speaking, it would be impossible to tap on the telephone,” Khieu Kanharith said. “Usually we use physical surveillance, not all this technology.”
Article 40 of the Cambodian Constitution guarantees the privacy of electronic communications, explicitly including those made by telephone.
However, Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and head of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia, said both public and private individuals in Cambodia fear that their telephone calls are tapped.
Government officials have said privately that surveillance of telephone calls is widespread and routine, he said.
“We know from our experience working with the Cambodian government that there is continuing wiretapping,” he added.