SRP Says It Will Boycott CCHR Forums

Marking an unprecedented strike against an organization once con­sidered an ideological and pol­itical ally, the Sam Rainsy Party an­nounced on Sunday that it will boycott all forums organized by the Cam­bodian Center for Human Rights.

In a scathing letter dated March 22 and received Sunday, SRP Act­ing Secretary-General Meng Rita ac­cused CCHR Director Kem Sokha of hoarding funds in order to launch a political party, and of using the organization’s public fo­rums to create a personality cult.

“Kem Sokha…has used public forum at the grassroots level for his own benefit more than for freedom of expression, knowledge dis­­semination and for the benefit of real people,” Meng Rita wrote.

Meng Rita also said that the ma­jority of CCHR’s volunteers are un­paid SRP activists and that the org­anization had stifled SRP participation during the forums by limiting party members’ speaking time to 10 minutes per participant.

Kem Sokha could not be contacted for comment.

CCHR spokesman Ou Virak said the SRP claims were groundless, reiterating that Kem Sokha had no plans to start his own political party.

“We have tried to put that rumor to rest,” Ou Virak said.

“There is always the rumor that Kem Sokha will form a political par­ty. Only time will tell that we have no intention of such,” he said.

SRP speakers were allotted the same time as everyone else at forums, he added. “The public forum has a time limit. We give 10 minutes each round, and we give two or three rounds. Even Kem Sokha himself we put on a time constraint,” he said.

Alex Sutton, resident country director for the US-based Inter­na­tional Republican Institute, said the SRP boycott of the public for­ums deviated from what was once a symbiotic relationship between the two groups.

Sutton urged the two groups to find a quick solution. “CCHR and SRP are like-minded organizations. They should be working to­gether,” he said. “It would be a shame to waste too much time fo­cusing on this issue.”

He said the IRI, which annually donates about $800,000 to CCHR and also provides political training to the SRP, would reconsider its relationship with the human rights organization should Kem Sokha start his own party. “If Kem Sokha reenters the world of politics, certainly it would have an effect on how IRI could support CCHR,” he said.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy refused to comment.

SRP members contacted on Sun­day denied that the boycott indicated fears that Kem Sokha was usurping the SRP’s popularity, which some said would suffer as a re­sult of Sam Rainsy’s growing co­ziness with Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling CPP.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that CCHR must stay out of the na­tion’s politics. “The center must be neutral,” he said. “So we encourage them not to be too publicly ac­tive.”

Committee for Free Elections Director Koul Panha warned that the boycott showed inconsistencies in SRP’s political message.

“They want to introduce a culture of dialogue, but dialogue is not just with the government. Dialogue is dialogue with everybody,” he said.

Koul Panha added that the SRP was still a strong opposition and that he did not believe Kem Sokha would attempt to push them out of the political arena. “They are softer than before, but they are still the opposition,” he said.


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