The mob that beat up two Cambodian opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh early this week included about 200 young men from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s corps of bodyguards who were driven in trucks to the protest and later boasted about beating the politicians, a driver who transported the attackers said .
The attack on Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea on Monday occurred as more than 1,000 pro-ruling party demonstrators surrounded the parliament building in Phnom Penh, calling for Kem Sokha, vice president of the CNRP, to step down from his position as first vice president of the National Assembly.
On Friday 68 lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) voted to remove Kem Sokha from National Assembly first vice president.
In Monday's incident, the two opposition lawmakers were dragged from their vehicles and punched and kicked in view of some parliamentary security officials . The attacks left Chamroeun with a triple arm fracture, broken nose and chipped front teeth, while both men sustained significant facial injuries including their eyes. They were flown to Thailand for medical treatment on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Hun Sen, writing on his official Facebook page, urged authorities to arrest the perpetrators of the attack.
“We cannot tolerate those who committed the act, no matter who they are—be they CPP supporters, government supporters or opposition supporters! Anyone who commits such a cheap act must be arrested and sentenced at any cost,” he wrote. He noted that National Assembly president Heng Samrin had donated U.S. $10,000 to each of the two injured lawmakers to assist with their medical care.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, however, a hired driver from a town outside of Phnom Penh told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday that he drove one of 10 open-backed transport trucks used to take nearly 200 young men from a fortress called Commissionaire of Bodyguards of Hun Sen, and known as Banteay Pong Loeung in Khmer. The fortress lies just down a river from the capital at Prek Samrong village in a town called Takhmao, near Hun Sen’s official residence.
The driver said that on October 25, a day before the protest and attack, a man called him saying that he wanted to hire a driver and vehicle to attend a meeting at the price of U.S. $40 per truck.
When he went to pick up the passengers at the fortress, he saw 10 vehicles ready to transport the bodyguards, each carrying 18 people. Among the passengers in his vehicle, some carried sticks, some carried rocks and some others carried banners, he said.
The men had apparently shed their uniforms and dressed as civilians to blend in as ordinary citizens and were wearing scarves around their waists, he added.
The men with scarves were later seen prominently in photos and video of the protests posted by Cambodians on social media.
“The bodyguards in Pong Loeung fortress, all are armed forces. There are no civil servants living there,” he told RFA
He described them as all “male, young and maybe under 30 years of age.”
“Those who were riding in the trucks were just communicating among themselves and they didn’t talk to us drivers.”
Bragging about punching lawmakers
The driver was then told to take the men to the protest site in front of the National Assembly, and then to take his truck to a parking spot at nearby Koh Pich.
“Before they got ready to go to Phnom Penh, they were each given a box of rice, a white box, like the kind that the military used to use, and they were allowed to eat before we took off,” he said.
“When they came back [after the protest], then they were given more rice,” the driver added.
When the demonstration was over, the driver took the bodyguards them back to their base. During the trip, the driver said the passengers were talking and boasting about the protest, with several claiming they had landed two or three punches on the lawmakers.
“When they came to the National Assembly, they were carrying sticks. When they returned, they had no sticks,” the driver said.
“I didn’t know where they put them. Maybe they threw them away,” he said of the sticks.
The driver’s account was confirmed by a second driver, who also drove a fan full of body guards to the protest, but told RFA he was afraid to be quoted.
In a separate interview with RFA, a man who identified himself as a member of CPP youth group in Kandal said he was tricked into taking part in Monday's protest.
Called to what he told was a meeting at CPP headquarters in Tuol Kror Saing, the man said when he and others arrived and entered the building, organizers started to dole out packets of rice to everyone. Instead of conducting the meeting at party headquarters, however, they were transported to the protest in front of the National Assembly.
“We are just like tools, for them to use," he said, adding that he believed he and others were used to make the protest crowd look bigger.
“They didn’t tell us that we were going to a protest to demand that [Kem Sokha] resign," he said. "They just told us to come by saying that we came for a meeting.”
“If we were told that we would be going to protest, then there would probably be no one who would come,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reported by Prach Chev of RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Paul Eckert.