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Hun Sen threatens opposition, seeking to divide party ahead of July elections

Repeating what has become a pattern in recent weeks, Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out again at the main opposition Candlelight Party on Thursday in an attempt to intimidate and divide it ahead of July’s general elections.

First, in response to accusations that he was threatening the opposition, he said his opponents were lucky he hadn’t sent thugs to attack their headquarters. 

“You have two options, first we could use the court,” Hun Sen said during a public appearance at a hospital construction inspection. “Secondly, we can go to hit you at your home because you don’t listen. Which option do you prefer? The second? Don’t be rude.” 

Then he offered to allow former opposition lawmaker Ho Vann to return to Cambodia from exile in the United States – as long as he renounces Sam Rainsy, one of Hun Sen’s chief political rivals.

This marks the third time in the past two weeks that Hun Sen – who has ruled Cambodia since 1985 – and his Cambodia People’s Party have targeted opposition politicians. 

Earlier this week, Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha was arrested on charges of writing false checks – charges that opposition activists say are politically motivated.

About two weeks ago, Hun Sen targeted Kong Korm, a former deputy foreign minister who is now a senior advisor to the Candlelight Party, demanding he return his Phnom Penh home, worth about U.S.$10 million, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

From left: Kong Korm, Candlelight Party advisor; Thach Setha, Candlelight Party vice president; and Son Chhay, Candlelight Party vice president. Credit: Candlelight Party Facebook page [left] and Associated Press

The government and the CPP maintain that none of the cases are politically motivated, but the Candlelight Party issued a statement saying the cases were examples of political persecution.

“The Candlelight Party strongly opposes pressures, threats and persecutions committed by the ruling party and demanded the ruling party to end it immediately,” a statement said, adding that it would continue to work toward ensuring that the election would be free and fair.

The statement also appealed to the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which were supposed to set the framework toward Cambodia becoming an independent democratic country, to “fulfill their duties to promote the respect of human rights implementation of democracy and pluralism in Cambodia.”

“Don’t assume every case is a politically motivated case. I beg you but there will be a legal measure against you,” Hun Sen said on Thursday about Thach Setha.

“You can’t issue a statement blaming the ruling party accusing it of intimidation. Please watch out, the CPP will sue you,” he said. “You issued bad checks so when there is a lawsuit, it is very appropriate.”

Hun Sen asked his legal team to study the Candlelight Party’s statement to file a complaint, and asked Candlelight to apologize if it wanted to avoid a lawsuit. The ruling party also issued a statement denying Candlelight’s claims.

Ho Vann has been convicted in absentia on charges of incitement, and would face a long jail sentence if he were to return. He told RFA’s Khmer Service that he would consider Hun Sen’s pardon offer – although other activists who have been lured back to Cambodia have been put in jail.

“This would be one of my life’s important decisions,” Ho Vann said. “I love my life, society, and my country.”

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.