Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said Wednesday that nearly 40 party members are in hiding because they fear arrest for allegedly plotting to establish an illegal armed force with jailed opposition lawmaker Cheam Chhany.
At least 35 party members have gone into hiding in Cambodia and Bangkok since July, Eng Chhay Eang said.
“They have gone to seek safety. We do not trust the government because so far the government has been playing tricks,” Eng Chhay Eang said. “Until right now, Sam Rainsy Party members have been worried about their security.”
He declined to name the fugitives but said 16 went into hiding after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused the opposition in July 2004 of trying to assemble a rebel force like the Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
He said an additional 18 went into hiding after Cheam Chhany was arrested on Feb 3.
Mu Sochua, former minister of women’s affairs and now an opposition member, also said party members are in hiding but added that she did not know how many.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said party members went into hiding last year but added that he was uncertain if they were still there.
“I’d presumed they’d come out of hiding,” Son Chhay said, adding that he was not familiar with Cheam Channy’s group inside the party. “I’ve not been following the case very closely,” Son Chhay said.
In an e-mail, opposition Senator Ung Bun-Ang also referred questions about the reported hiding members to Eng Chhay Eang.
A UN human rights official and local rights group Licadho both said Wednesday that they had no information on the matter.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Wednesday accused the Sam Rainsy Party of trying to damage the government’s reputation in time for the anticipated arrival in the coming months of the new US ambassador, adding that opposition members are free to go wherever they want.
“Why are they scared now?” Khieu Kanharith asked.
“They try to put oil on the fire….They try to make Cambodia look like the worst threat to come, like Iraq,” he said.
If they are really scared, “Why not ask for political asylum?” Khieu Kanharith added.
Eng Chhay Eang said he and other opposition members will meet with European Union delegates on Friday, where opposition officials will raise the issue of the hiding members. He added that the meeting will be coordinated by the British Embassy.
Asked about the meeting and the reported fugitives, the British Embassy said Wednesday that the meeting is “part of normal, on-going EU member states’ activity to keep in touch with political opinion within the country” but declined further comment.