An activist with Cambodia’s opposition party on Tuesday accused a former senior official with the country’s intelligence organization of making death threats against him, causing him to fear for his life, and has called on local authorities and civil society groups to investigate the incident.
Rom Sarorn, an activist with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Battambang province’s Banan district, said he was attacked by the former deputy commander of Division 52 in charge of Cambodia’s intelligence agency, Phon Sophaon, on July 26 as the two discussed politics at a local café.
According to Rom Sarorn, the two men had been arguing over the purpose behind CNRP President Sam Rainsy’s ongoing trip to Paris, when Phon Sophaon began beating him, injuring his eye.
“He accused me in the coffee shop of betrayal and ingratitude, and then he started to beat me up and slammed me to the ground,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service, adding that the attack had been “politically motivated.”
“I don’t know what would have happened to me if nobody came to my aid.”
Sam Rainsy is traveling in Paris to build support for Cambodia’s democratic ambitions, and has drawn criticism for leaving the country last week on the same day that 11 CNRP activists were sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years for taking part in a July 2014 protest that turned violent.
Rom Sarorn claimed Phon Sophaon also “threatened to kill me,” and said he is now living in fear, urging provincial authorities and civil society groups to “take immediate action” against the former deputy commander.
Phon Sophaon—also known as Lorn—acknowledged to RFA that he and Rom Sarorn had a political disagreement, but said it was related to an ongoing territorial dispute with Vietnam along the country’s shared border with Cambodia.
He also denied allegations that he had attacked Rom Sarorn and threatened to kill the activist.
“[Rom Sarorn] said Vietnam has grabbed all of our land in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces [along the border], and I asked him not to provoke a fight over the matter because our two countries are neighbors,” he said.
Ongoing border issues between Cambodia and Vietnam led to clashes at the end of June when Vietnamese villagers attacked and beat Cambodian activists who were inspecting a road that the Vietnamese constructed in a disputed area of Svay Rieng province, according to the CNRP. The Vietnamese say they were also attacked by Cambodians.
Phon Sophaon said he told Rom Sarorn not to worry about the dispute because Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier this month sent letters to world leaders requesting “cooperation” in obtaining copies of internationally recognized maps of Cambodia’s borders as part of a bid to resolve the issue.
“I said if Vietnam wanted to take our land, it could have done so in 1979 when we were living under Hanoi’s control,” he said, referring to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, which unseated the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge regime estimated to have killed 1.7 million people during its four-year rule.
He added that Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) “has helped us” defend the country’s territory from Vietnam, despite allegations from the opposition that his government had ceded land to the neighboring nation by using “fake maps.”
Heng Sayhong, a provincial investigator with domestic rights group Licadho, told RFA that his initial investigation into the incident suggests that Phon Sophaon had used intimidation as a way to restrict Rom Sarorn’s freedom of expression.
“The perpetrator should be seriously punished because he is a military officer who is attempting to exert his power over an innocent civilian,” he said.
Heng Sayhong said that after concluding his investigation into the incident, he will send his findings to the Battambang provincial court to press for further action.
Rights groups have highlighted a culture of impunity in Cambodia, where a number of killings and attacks, including those of journalists and rights campaigners, have not been thoroughly investigated or their perpetrators brought to justice.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.