Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen denied Wednesday that the July arrest of a radio station chief was aimed at closing down the station, a frequent source of broadcasts critical of the government.
The Cambodian government has no plans to shut down FM station 105, also known as Beehive Radio, Hun Sen said, addressing students and faculty at a school graduation ceremony.
“You can’t say we are trying to get rid of someone, and we won’t do anything to affect the radio station,” Hun Sen said about two weeks after station chief Mam Sonando was arrested on charges he had orchestrated a takeover by villagers of disputed land in May.
“There is nothing wrong with the station itself, but its owner broke the law,” Hun Sen said.
Human rights groups have protested the arrest, calling it politically motivated.
Mam Sonando “has done nothing wrong over the years except to run a radio station that broadcasts news that sometimes the prime minister and the people around the prime minister don’t like,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said following the arrest.
“The biggest land grabber in Cambodia is the prime minister and his business cronies, who are taking land from poor people all over the country. So, it’s really sheer hypocrisy that this has happened,” Adams said.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hun Sen also lashed out at plans by two key Cambodian opposition parties to merge, calling the interim group implementing the merger, the Cambodia Democratic Movement for National Rescue, “a storm in a cooking pot.”
“Who is this movement trying to rescue?” he asked, adding that it is his own government’s duty to protect the Cambodian people from “storms.”
A July 30 meeting in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh was the first by the Cambodia Democratic Movement for National Rescue since the two parties—the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP)—announced on July 17 that they would join forces to challenge Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in general elections next year.
SRP president Sam Rainsy lives in exile and faces charges in Cambodia that he says are politically motivated.
Hun Sen also said on Wednesday that he is prepared to reply in parliament to opposition inquiries into a recent border demarcation with Vietnam that has drawn criticism from opposition parties and NGOs.
“We will clear this up in the National Assembly,” he said.
“Before, I have responded to these points in writing, but now I will need four to seven hours nonstop just to explain the details.”
He added that he is now waiting only for a formal summons to appear, and has ordered that his appearance be televised live.
'Need to clarify'
Hun Sen’s statement came after SRP lawmaker Son Chhay wrote to National Assembly president Heng Samrin, asking that Hun Sen be required to answer questions before lawmakers.
Speaking on the sidelines of the graduation ceremony, Var Kimhong, president of the government’s border demarcation committee, told RFA that opposition allegations that Cambodia’s government had ceded land to Vietnam are untrue.
“This is normal,” he said. “Samdech [Hun Sen] needs to clarify this.”
Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann welcomed the news that Hun Sen might testify, saying, “We are waiting to hear what Hun Sen has to say.”
Cambodia and Vietnam share 2,570 kilometers (1,600 miles) of land and sea border and have completed 280 of 314 planned border posts, or about 90 percent of their joint demarcation.
Many Cambodians are wary of Vietnam’s influence over their country’s affairs.
An estimated 1.7 million people, or one in four Cambodians, died in what came to be called the “Killing Fields” after the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. The regime was unseated when Vietnam invaded the country four years later.
Vietnam occupied the country for a decade before withdrawing its troops and signing the Paris Peace Agreement to restore sovereignty and stability to Cambodia.
Reported by Sok Serey and So Chivi for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.