Rights Group Leader Latest Legal Target

In the latest of a long list of lawsuits exchanged among Cam­bodia’s political leaders, Fun­cinpec Secretary-General and co-Interior Minister Prince Noro­dom Sirivudh has filed a defamation suit against human rights group Director Kem Sokha, ac­cording to a document obtained Thursday.

The document, addressed to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court dated Aug 21, charges that Kem Sokha defamed Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh when he alleged that the Prince was bribed by Prime Minister Hun Sen to join the CPP in a coalition government.

Speaking last month on FM 105 Beehive radio station, Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, ac­cused Prince Ranariddh of accepting an airplane from the prime minister in exchange for joining the government.

The allegation was “an intention to defame Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s reputation and the Funcinpec party and is contrary to the truth,” according to the statement, signed by Prince Sirivudh.

While documents released in July showed the government had transferred ownership of a small passenger Falcon-30E jet to Prince Ranariddh in May, that transfer was not related to Funcinpec’s decision to join the government, Prince Sirivudh wrote.

Instead, Funcinpec joined the government “because the party thinks about the national interests,” he wrote, asking for compensation of 100 million riel, or about $25,000.

Prince Sirivudh and his advisers did not respond to repeated calls for comment Thursday.

Kem Sokha, a former Funcinpec senator, said he was unconcerned about the lawsuit.

“I would like to inform Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Prince Sirivudh and the Funcinpec party that I don’t have time to argue with you,” he announced on Beehive radio on Thursday. He added: “This is a kind of threat against me not to criticize them.”

Prince Sirivudh’s complaint against Kem Sokha is among at least seven lawsuits currently either in court or are about to be launched in court between Cambodia’s political figures.

On Thursday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy appeared in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning over a defamation lawsuit, launched against him by Hun Sen for implicating the prime minister in the Jan 22 killing of union leader Chea Vichea.

Repeating his earlier statements, Sam Rainsy told court prosecutor Yet Chakriya that Hun Sen was behind the killing, Sam Rainsy said later.

Sam Rainsy said he presented a video as evidence, in which Chea Vichea said he was being targeted by powerful members of the government.

“He said specifically that a powerful man wanted to kill him, whose name was Hun Sen,” Sam Rainsy said.

Hun Sen’s advisors and CPP officials have denied the prime minister had any role in the killing. At the same time that Hun Sen made his complaint against the opposition leader in January, the CPP-led government also launched a lawsuit against Sam Rainsy for those same allegations.

Sam Rainsy has countersued Hun Sen, accusing the prime minister of masterminding the 1997 grenade attack on a rally, which Sam Rainsy led in Phnom Penh. The opposition leader, who is also a French citizen, launched a similar lawsuit against the prime minister in France. Hun Sen has denied any involvement in that attack which left at least 16 dead and injured more than 120.

On Wednesday, Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Serey Kosal said he and other party officials would file a court complaint against Sam Rainsy this week for Sam Rainsy’s accusations that Prince Ranariddh took a $30 million bribe from Hun Sen to join the government.

In response, Sam Rainsy said he would countersue, charging that Prince Ranariddh, as head of the National Assembly, was responsible for corruption involving the construction of the new Assembly building.

While the use of the courts is an improvement over violence to resolve disputes, some observers said, the constant public bickering should be set aside for more pressing issues.

“The new government and new National Assembly should work hard to ensure voters [that they] remain in a smooth situation,” said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “The politicians always provoke each other.”

 

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