Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen Dismisses Calls For Resignation, Vows to ‘Wage War’ on Opposition

Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen Dismisses Calls For Resignation, Vows to ‘Wage War’ on Opposition

Op-Ed: RFA, 2019-05-30

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech during the 25th International Conference on The Future Of Asia in Tokyo, May 30, 2019.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech during the 25th International Conference on The Future Of Asia in Tokyo, May 30, 2019.

 AFP

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday brushed aside calls by members of the Cambodian diaspora in Japan to resign, pledging instead to “wage war” against his country’s banned opposition party and vowing to “destroy” its acting president, Sam Rainsy.

During the third day of his May 28-31 visit to Tokyo to attend the 25th session of the Future of Asia conference, Hun Sen told regional leaders during a speech that he has no plans to step down or to back off former members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved in November 2017 for its alleged role in a plot to topple the government.

“I am declaring today that we will continue to implement legal measures against those who are being charged [with crimes],” Hun Sen said, referring to members of the CNRP leadership in exile, including Sam Rainsy, who fled the country in 2016 to avoid what he says are politically motivated convictions, and has worked to gather support for the party abroad.

“Meanwhile, I am waging war against a person [Sam Rainsy] who has claimed to have established a movement in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia to stage a war against me,” he added, calling the CNRP chief “a dog that I need to destroy.”

As long as the CNRP “continues to wage a war against me, I will continue to fight them,” Hun Sen vowed.

The 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the CNRP paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to steamroll a general election in July last year widely seen as unfree and unfair, amid a wider crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media.

In addition to ongoing political restrictions on former CNRP officials, authorities have summoned dozens of former CNRP members in Battambang and Kampong Thom provinces for questioning in recent weeks for allegedly violating the Supreme Court decision after they were seen in public eating noodles together or had expressed support in social media posts for the party’s leaders.

Anti-Hun Sen protests

On Thursday, more than 30 members of Japan’s Cambodian diaspora held a protest outside of Hun Sen’s hotel in Tokyo, carrying banners demanding that he step down, and urging China to stop supporting his rule.

They also gathered outside of the home of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and in front of the National Diet of Japan, or parliament, shouting “Hun Sen must go” and likening him to Pol Pot, under whose 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime an estimated 3 million Cambodians are believed to have died.

Several protesters told RFA’s Khmer Service that they had left Cambodia to find work in Japan because they lacked opportunities back home, including Nep Bora, who said she envies Japanese citizens because “their government is taking care of them.”

“Hun Sen has been in power for about 40 years, but we don’t even have enough water and electricity,” she said of Southeast Asia’s longest ruling strongman.

Others highlighted governance issues under Hun Sen’s watch that include forest destruction, land disputes, rampant corruption, and widespread poverty.

In response to Hun Sen’s comments on Thursday, Sam Rainsy told RFA that the CNRP has no intention of starting a war against the prime minister, who he labeled a “gangster” that resorts to “abusive language.”

“We don’t regard Cambodians as enemies,” he said.

“Hun Sen is waging a war against Cambodians … I am appealing to Cambodians to oppose this dictator to prevent him from destroying our nation.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay warned that the war of words between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy is affecting Cambodia’s international reputation.

He also suggested that Hun Sen’s threats are part of a bid to dissuade Sam Rainsy from returning to Cambodia, as he has vowed to do this year so that he can lead the opposition to victory over the ruling party.

Members of the Cambodian diaspora in Japan display a banner used in a protest against Hun Sen in Tokyo, May 30, 2019. Credit: RFA listenersUS relations

While in Japan, Hun Sen expressed gratitude to his hosts for contributing to Cambodia’s development through financing and infrastructure, as well as investment by the Japanese private sector, and called for additional assistance from Tokyo going forward.

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Sam Rainsy updated chronicle of Cambodia illegitimate elections under Hun Sen dictatorial leadership

២៦ ឧសភា ២០១៩ / 26 May 2019

ការបោះឆ្នោតក្លែងក្លាយ ដែលនាំមកនូវប្រព័ន្ធឯកបក្ស / Fake elections leading to a one-party system (*)

ថ្ងៃអាទិត្យ ២៦ ឧសភា ២០១៩ នេះ មានការរៀបចំការបោះឆ្នោតជ្រើសរើសសមាជិកក្រុមប្រឹក្សា រាជធានី-ខេត្ត ក្រុង-ស្រុក-ខណ្ឌ។ នេះជាការបោះឆ្នោតក្លែងក្លាយ លើកទី៣ នៅកម្ពុជា បន្ទាប់ពីរបប ហ៊ុន សែន បានរំលាយគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ ដោយអត្តនោម័ត នៅថ្ងៃ ១៦ វិច្ឆិកា ២០១៧។ ការបោះឆ្នោតក្លែងក្លាយ លើកទី១ គឺការបោះឆ្នោតព្រឹទ្ធសភា នៅថ្ងៃ ២៥ កុម្ភៈ ២០១៨។ ការបោះឆ្នោតក្លែងក្លាយ លើកទី២ គឺការបោះឆ្នោតតំណាងរាស្ត្រ នៅថ្ងៃ ២៩ កក្កដា ២០១៨។ ការបោះឆ្នោតក្លែងក្លាយទាំង ៣ លើកនោះ ធ្វើឲ្យគណបក្សកាន់អំណាច ទទួលបានកៅអី ១០០ ភាគរយ នៅគ្រប់ស្ថាប័នរដ្ឋ ពីថ្នាក់ជាតិ ដល់ថ្នាក់មូលដ្ឋាន។ សូមមើលការពន្យល់ ក្នុងតារាងខាងក្រោមនេះ។
(*) This Sunday 26 May 2019 there is an election to renew municipal, provincial, town and district councils. This is the third fake election to take place in Cambodia following the arbitrary dissolution of the opposition CNRP on 16 November 2017. The first fake election was the last Senate election which took place on 25 February 2018. The second fake election was the last National Assembly election which was held on 29 July 2018 without the participation of the CNRP. These three consecutive fake elections have allowed the ruling CPP to “win” 100% of the seats up for grabs at all State institutions from national to local levels. (See explanations in the chart below).

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Cambodia’s opposition faces renewed crackdown amid China shift

As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears.

The family said they were told by prison officials that Rorn had a seizure, hit his head and died – but they dispute the story. According to Tita, Rorn had no history of epilepsy and his injuries did not seem consistent with a seizure.

After the funeral, Tita fled the village. He said police had come looking for him at his home on two occasions.

“I am scared but I want to tell the truth and I want justice,” he said.

Cambodia’s opposition faces renewed crackdown amid China shift

Op-Ed: Al Jazeera

With senior leaders jailed or exiled, local and regional supporters of opposition report attacks and harassment.by Andrew Nachemson & Yon Sineat19 May 2019

CNRP leader Kem Sokha greets supporters on the last day of campaigning ahead of local elections in 2017. He was detained a few months later and remains under house arrest [File: Heng Sinith/AP Photo]
CNRP leader Kem Sokha greets supporters on the last day of campaigning ahead of local elections in 2017. He was detained a few months later and remains under house arrest [File: Heng Sinith/AP Photo]

MORE ON CAMBODIA

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Nol Puthearith was a security guard at the headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and continued to watch over the building in the Cambodian capital even after the main opposition party itself was forcibly dissolved by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Chinese investment brings casinos to Cambodia (2:34)

Last month, he was attacked by a group of strangers.

“They beat me until I was unconscious,” said Puthearith, who has supported the opposition and acted as a bodyguard for party leaders since the late 1990s. “I have no idea who they are and I can’t identify them.”

A week after the April 13 attack in Phnom Penh, another opposition member named Tith Rorn was taken to a police station in Kampong Cham province for questioning over a crime that had taken place more than a decade ago.

Cambodian court issues arrest warrants for top opposition leaders

While not directly related, the two events are part of what some observers see as a pattern of ongoing abuse and intimidation against political opponents of Hun Sen, exacerbated by a recent threat by the European Union to cancel its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement with Cambodia over its human rights record.

Hun Sen has accused the EU of holding Cambodia hostage and warned that he would renew his crackdown on the opposition if Europe did not relent.

Lee Morgenbesser, author of Behind the Facade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, said that while the CNRP is officially disbanded, the government still fears its influence because its supporters have been driven underground.

“Hun Sen’s government has eliminated the threat of the CNRP at the national level, but it has much work to do at the local level,” he explained. “The problem for Hun Sen now is identifying who to repress, how to repress them and when to repress them.”

The CNRP’s leader Kem Sokha remains under house arrest after he was detained at the end of 2017 and accused of treason.

The party itself, which came a close second in the 2013 national elections and in the 2017 local polls, was dissolved two years ago on spurious allegations of attempted revolution aided by the United States. The move ensured that Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) secured every one of the 125 seats in the National Assembly in last year’s election.

Although there was a relaxation of political repression after the polls and many political prisoners were released, including 14 members of the CNRP, the attacks on opposition supporters have now resumed.

CNRP member Kong Mas, who supported cancelling the EBA, was arrested for incitement in January.


Tith Rorn, a supporter of Cambodia’s opposition CNRP who was detained over a fight that happened 13 years ago and died in mysterious circumstances in prison three days later [Al Jazeera]

Beatings, assaults

At least three individuals, including Puthearith, have been assaulted in cases the party claims are politically motivated since March.

Rorn, the CNRP coordinator, was arrested on April 15 over a fight with a pro-government activist that took place 13 years ago, well beyond the statute of limitations. He later died in prison.READ MORE

Trick or real? CNRP split over Cambodia move to ease politics ban

After the altercation, Rorn fled to Anlong Veng near the Thai border but came home from time to time. He had been living in the village for about a year when the police came for him.

“On the second day of Khmer New Year at 7:30 in the morning, police came and said they needed to take him for questioning,” his father, Eam Tita, a provincial coordinator for the CNRP in Kampong Cham, told Al Jazeera from an undisclosed location.

“After they took him for questioning, he never came back and three days later police told my neighbour that my son had died.”

As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears.

The family said they were told by prison officials that Rorn had a seizure, hit his head and died – but they dispute the story. According to Tita, Rorn had no history of epilepsy and his injuries did not seem consistent with a seizure.

“There were bruises all over his body like he had been beaten and his neck was broken,” Tita said. The family was unable to get a doctor to do an official autopsy, because doctors in the area were too scared to get involved.

After the funeral, Tita fled the village. He said police had come looking for him at his home on two occasions.

“I am scared but I want to tell the truth and I want justice,” he said.


Popular opposition figure Sin Rozeth takes a selfie with a supporter after being interrogated for more than four hours by a provincial court in Battambang [Andrew Nachemson/Al Jazeera]

Strengthening grip

On May 10, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a group of MPs from around Southeast Asia, called for an independent investigation into Rorn’s death. In a statement, the group urged the Cambodian government to stop targeting members of the opposition.

“The continued attacks on the opposition shows that the government has no interest in meaningful dialogue, but is only concerned with strengthening its own grip on power,” said Charles Santiago, APHR chairman and a Malaysian MP, said in the statement.

Last week, the US State Department also released a statement expressing concern and calling for an investigation, as well as for the release of Kem Sokha.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Rhona Smith, has also expressed worry, noting “few tangible improvements” in the political environment.

“I remain concerned that pressure on former members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party continue unabated,” she said in a press conference at the end of a fact-finding mission on May 9.

Puthearith, the security guard, fled to Thailand after he was attacked, but he says colleagues informed him that police have come looking for him three times. He fears he might be permanently detained or worse.

“I’m very concerned for my safety, that’s why I fled Cambodia. What happened to me is politically motivated because I didn’t know those people and I also don’t have any conflict with anyone,” Puthearith said.


Smith: ‘I remain concerned that pressure on former members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party continue unabated’ [Heng Sinith/AP Photo]

‘Seek refugee status, not a problem’

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Hun Sen Dares Critics, Within and Without, to Challenge Him

The message, once again, was clear: If you want to fight me, let’s fight.

The silence from the military has spoken for itself, at least for now.

Still the premier’s hubristic style in the face of challenge only masks the unenviable position that has necessitated it. The two most lucrative markets for Cambodia’s limited exports remain under threat unless he quickly changes tack — or if E.U. and U.S. officials back down from their threats in the face of his daring recalcitrance.

Others in his party, on the other hand, may only be biding their time and waiting to see if he does anything to undermine his patient plans for a succession.

There is also a tension in his willingness to risk economic ruin amid diminishing exports at the same time he seeks to place his son at the head of a party long promoted as the home for the country’s businesspeople and those who do not “rock the boat.”

Op-Ed: VOD in English on Hun Sen Dares Critics, Within and Without, to Challenge Him

Prime Minister Hun Sen attended the 20-year anniversary of RCAF on January 24, 2019. (Photo/Courtesy of Facebook PM)

NEWS ANALYSIS

In his gravest moments of weakness, Prime Minister Hun Sen has never shied from daring his challengers to a fight.

From asking rival military forces to return in 1991 to ensuring ruling party rival Chea Sim visited Bangkok in 2004 for “medical care,” Hun Sen has made an art out of cloaking creeping fragility within a haze of dramatic displays of defiant cockiness.

The strategy has repeatedly paid dividends, with the prime minister most notably turning the July 1997 “coup d’etat” into the July 1998 “Miracle on the Mekong” election — as well as mounting protests against his rule in 2013 by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) into 2014’s “culture of dialogue.”

It is an aggression that gets results. Feeling his weight forced onto his back foot, Hun Sen’s response has been the same: If you want to fight me, let’s fight.

So too again now that the European Union and U.S. threaten to revoke Cambodia’s tariff-free access to their large markets — which buy two-thirds of the country’s exports through the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) and Generalized Systems of Privileges (GSP) schemes — if he does not reverse a descent into despotism.

As head of a regime that has long buttressed its legitimacy in economic development, a less experienced leader might be compelled to offer a brief display of contrition and flexibility when faced with the serious threat of economic damage.

For one, the recent fact-finding trip of the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Rhona Smith, to Cambodia for almost two weeks this month may have been seized as an opportunity to display a move back toward democracy.

Not so for Hun Sen, now in his 35th year of power.

On the contrary, in a move seemingly scheduled to coincide with the arrival of a U.N. official, whose opinions will undoubtedly influence decisions made by the E.U. and U.S. over the rest of the year, Hun Sen’s government dug in its heels.

Hence while Smith was winding up her trip to Phnom Penh on May 8 and 9, on the other side of Cambodia the Battambang Provincial Court was busily compelling more than 20 former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) figures to court on claims they were illegally cavorting over cold noodles.

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