US Accused of Sheltering Activist Kem Sokha

A senior government official claimed Tuesday that a US Embassy staff member has been protecting opposition activist Kem Sokha, bringing a warning last week for the US not to interfere in the case.

“Yes, it’s true,” said Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for Information, citing information from “unofficial sources.”

He implied it is not the role of the embassy to assist Kem Sokha, who is due today to appear in Municipal Court for questioning.

“If you read the charges, it is clear this is not a political case,” Khieu Kanharith said. “There is no reason to provide him protection or political asylum.”

Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng wrote Hun Sen last week that he had met with US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn and warned the US not to interfere in the court’s attempt to summons Kem Sok­ha. Hun Sen wrote in response that neither a foreign government nor the royal government should meddle in court affairs.

Senior US Embassy officials have declined twice this week to comment on any aspect of the Kem Sokha case, including whether they are protecting him.

Last week, the municipal court also summonsed Kem Sokha to appear, but the outspoken former National Assembly member did not show.

Rights workers and political analysts, however, have said the case is indeed political and Kem Sokha, who has twice been prevented from leaving the country, has reason to be in hiding.

“I believe the government would detain him for a long time” and possibly harm him,” an analyst said Tuesday. “I’m very happy the US has taken the role to protect him. In my view, he’s one of the leading Cambo­dians advocating human rights and protecting the rights of workers.”

Kem Sokha was the Ass­embly’s human rights commission chairman. He failed in July to win re-election for the Son Sann Party. He could not be reached for comment.

The analyst said that as far as he knew, Kem Sokha’s only connection to the US was attending a conference in 1996 on Cambo­dia’s role in the international community.

Khieu Kanharith reiterated municipal court official comments that all the government wants is for Kem Sokha to appear for questioning in connection with the recent opposition demon­strations. “Nobody wants to arrest Kem Sokha,” he said.

“Kem Sokha could be accompanied by an embassy official or a UN rights worker, but by refusing [to appear], he is giving grounds for arrest,” Khieu Kan­harith added.

But he said authorities would not attempt to “take him” from a US Embassy staff member’s house.

Several top government officials said Wednesday that they do not know for sure where Kem Sokha is. Several others declined to comment on the case.

Mong Mony Chariya, the municipal court investigating judge, said Wednesday he’s not sure where Kem Sokha is or whether local authorities have delivered the summons.

The investigating judge previously said charges of incitement to racial hatred, incitement to violence and damage to state property are being explored in Kem Sokha’s case. He also has said Sam Rainsy is under investigation on similar charges.

Kem Sokha took an active role in the opposition protests, re­questing Second Prime Minister Hun Sen step down and join the monkhood. He added that Hun Sen would not qualify to be a monk at a Khmer wat, but only at a “yuon” pagoda.

Yuon is considered by many to be a derogatory term for ethnic Vietnamese.

But a rights worker said recently that Kem Sokha didn’t say or do anything that would justify the charges being explored. The government has said previously it has tapes of the speeches made at the protest sit-in.

Khieu Kanharith also claimed this week that Kem Sokha had spent several months in jail in 1979 or 1980 for stealing rice when he was a commune or district chief in Phnom Penh.

“It sounds like character assassination,” said the analyst. He said he doubted the rice-stealing story was true, but noted that in 1980 Cambodia faced widespread starvation because the Khmer Rouge had destroyed much of the crop.



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