A cool and collected Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared on state television last night to call for calm in the wake of Monday’s savage beating of two CNRP lawmakers, which both the opposition party and civil society groups have accused Mr. Hun Sen of orchestrating.
The premier also demanded that the perpetrators of the assault, who were attending a protest against CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha, be promptly arrested, a demand opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he hoped was sincere.
Mr. Rainsy has accused Mr. Hun Sen of organizing the assaults on the lawmakers in retaliation for opposition protests that have met him on his recent trips to the U.S. and France. The prime minister began his speech last night by drawing a possible link.
“When I traveled to attend a U.N. summit in September 2015, the opposition assigned roughly 40 to 50 people to stage a protest there while I was meeting with about 300 compatriots,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“Once again, when I traveled to France as a state guest representing the Cambodian race—with saluting troops at the airport and motorbikes draped in Cambodian flags—the opposition organized a protest with about 100 attendees as I met with nearly 1,000 Cambodians,” he said.
“So, the demonstration in Phnom Penh could have been influenced by the protests staged respectively by the opposition in New York and France, or it could be a coincidence because the opposition repeatedly stages [protests] without thinking of the nation’s dignity.”
Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling party has denied organizing the protest, which was ostensibly to demand that Mr. Sokha resign as National Assembly vice president, saying it was a spontaneous showing of anger by CPP supporters.
For his part, Mr. Hun Sen said he was not even sure that the bashing of the two lawmakers outside the National Assembly’s front gates was political, though he demanded the assailants be prosecuted nonetheless.
“A number of topics have been raised, relating to this story or that story, cursing, love triangles, revenge and this or that,” Mr. Hun Sen explained. “But it does not matter…. Violence should not occur.”
“Today I make an official announcement, asking authorities to arrest the perpetrators who committed violence on the two lawmakers,” he said. “We cannot be partial and pardon the perpetrators, no matter if they are CPP supporters…or opposition supporters.”
Mr. Hun Sen argued that the attacks on the two CNRP lawmakers, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea —who were repeatedly kicked and stomped on after being dragged out of their SUVs—occurred an hour after the proCPP protest had subsided.
“Anyone who commits such cheap actions must be arrested and prosecuted,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be cooperation and appeals for the citizens to stay calm and continue doing business.”
National Assembly President Heng Samrin has already donated $20,000 toward medical treatment of Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea, Mr. Hun Sen added, and could donate more if their hospital bills continue to rise.
After Monday’s attacks, Mr. Rainsy described the event as an example of Mr. Hun Sen using “fascist methods” and an act of forewarned retaliation against the protests in France and the U.S.
Yet Mr. Rainsy was more conciliatory last night, saying he would allow official investigations to conclude before making further claims —even if he still believes Mr. Hun Sen orchestrated the assaults.
“This is my belief, but between my belief and official confirmation, we have to let the people who are supposed to conduct the investigation to do their work, so I welcome the investigation,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“But I call for an independent and impartial investigation. This is what is really needed. It is a golden opportunity for the Hun Sen government to show there are no double standards in Cambodia,” he said.
“There have been investigations when there were accusations of violence against the opposition and its supporters, and those governmentled investigations were very quick to come to a conclusion,” he added.
“It’s done in a certain way when they accuse CNRP supporters, so now that we can say that the suspects are CPP supporters, so I would like to see it proceed as fast as if they were CNRP supporters.”
Deputy National Police Commissioner Chay Sinarith, who is part of a sevenman commission set up to investigate the attacks, said the probe had started with police scouring social media for videos.
“This morning we started gathering evidence and witnesses,” he said. “We need to collect as much evidence as possible to verify the target perpetrators, and now we are working very hard and have seen the information brothers and sisters posted on social media.”
Lieutenant General Sinarith said he was hopeful the committee would find the suspects, despite accusations from Human Rights Watch that the commission is a lame duck force meant to cover the CPP’s planning of the assault.
“When we have evidence and have their identities, we will work in compliance with the procedures to make a request to the courts to arrest them,” he said.
Mr. Sokha, the deputy opposition leader, posted a message to Facebook from a Thai hospital saying that Mr. Chamroeun has received surgery for a broken hand and damaged eye and Mr. Saphea for a broken nose and torn ear.
Claims that the CPP organized Monday’s protest have been aided by identical calls for Mr. Sokha to resign during separate rallies by troops under the command of deputy military chief Kun Kim, a close confidante of Mr. Hun Sen.
Greeting Mr. Hun Sen at the Phnom Penh International Airport Wednesday morning, Defense Minister Tea Banh denied that the protests were part of a government campaign to frighten the opposition.
The soldiers calling for Mr. Sokha’s ouster “have the right to support and to hate anyone,” General Banh told reporters. “It is an individual right.”
As part of a whirlwind three days of threats and violence from the government, Mr. Hun Sen on Sunday also warned that Mr. Rainsy may be jailed just like an opposition senator charged over a fake treaty he presented in a video on Mr. Rainsy’s Facebook.
Senator Hong Sok Hour’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution was disregarded in August due to an exception for those caught “in flagrante delicto,” or in the act, as the crime was recorded on video.
“We respect immunity, but in cases of flagrante delicto, they can be arrested immediately,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a speech in Paris. “The page’s owner is Rainsy, so it can be involved with that guy,” he added. “This time, I will not pardon him.”
Yet Mr. Rainsy said last night that imprisoning him would create many problems for the government, and that he plans to return from France by Wednesday at the latest, adding that he has no fears about being arrested.
“Not at all. The case of Hong Sok Hour is very farfetched. If they want to extend it to me, it would be even further farfetched. At that time, for the entire month of August, I was in the U.S.,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“I think that the government has its hands too full already, but I am also ready to go to jail. In a few days I will be back in Cambodia. I have no concerns. If they want to arrest me, I will let them,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)