Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior has ordered authorities across the country to strengthen security for politicians from all parties following a brutal attack on two opposition lawmakers outside of the parliament building in the capital Phnom Penh late last month.
The order came as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) announced that its lawmakers would boycott the National Assembly, or parliament, until given assurances that authorities had improved safety measures at the legislature.
In a Nov. 4 letter—a copy of which was obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service—the Ministry of Interior ordered all provincial governors and commanders general to “take proper and effective action to strengthen security and safety for political figures from all parties, diplomats and businessmen” around the country.
It said the move was necessary “in order to maintain and strengthen peace, political and social stability, human rights, democracy and the state of law in Cambodia.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak told RFA that the letter was meant to prevent attacks on politicians such as that of Oct. 26, when CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea were dragged from their vehicles and assaulted by protesters after attending a meeting at parliament.
He added that all political figures and representatives of nongovernmental organizations should inform authorities before traveling to local areas and cooperate with them to ensure their safety.
Senior CNRP official Eng Chhai Eang told RFA that opposition members routinely “face difficulties” when they meet with local authorities and questioned whether the ministry’s order would be implemented effectively.
He said the Oct. 26 incident and another recent one, in which the vehicle of CNRP President Sam Rainsy was blocked by CPP supporters in Oddar Meanchey province on Oct. 7, indicated that authorities are less likely to protect members of the opposition in situations where their safety is threatened.
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) noted in a report it issued following the assault on Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea that CNRP lawmakers visit Cambodia’s provincial area more regularly than those from the CPP and are more likely to fall victim to attacks.
Also on Wednesday, senior CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith confirmed that the party’s 55 lawmakers would boycott the National Assembly and refrain from making provincial level visits, citing fears for their safety, despite the recent arrest of three suspects in the Oct. 26 attack.
“[We] have decided that due to safety concerns, our CNRP lawmakers are unable to attend [parliamentary] meetings or conduct local visits at this time,” he said.
“[The authorities] must investigate and arrest all the perpetrators and masterminds behind [the Oct. 26 attack] so that we can have confidence nothing will happen to our lawmakers,” he said, adding that the CNRP considers the three arrests insufficient.
The announcement of the boycott came after Sam Rainsy and CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha, who had visited the injured members of parliament where they are being treated in Thailand, told officials at three foreign embassies that opposition lawmakers will only return to work when the government can ensure their security.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed CNRP fears, calling the political situation in the country “normal,” and saying his party could use its majority to pass legislation regardless of an opposition boycott of the next parliamentary session, according to a report by The Phnom Penh Post.
Lawmakers deny responsibility
On Thursday, Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea dismissed an earlier accusation by Prime Minister Hun Sen that they had prompted the Oct. 26 assault by cursing at CPP supporters who surrounded parliament, calling for Kem Sokha to step down from his position as first vice president of the National Assembly. Kem Sokha was ousted by lawmakers late last week.
Last week, Hun Sen took to his official Facebook page to urge authorities to arrest the perpetrators of the attack, but added that it had been precipitated by a number of factors, such as “cursing at each other, a love triangle [and] revenge,” without providing details. He repeated the claims to local media Thursday.
Speaking from the hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, where the two are recuperating from broken bones and facial lacerations, Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea denied that they had cursed at protesters and questioned how Hun Sen could know what happened when he was in France on a state visit at the time.
The two lawmakers continued to demand justice from authorities and echoed concerns that the investigation had so far fallen short, suggesting the “masterminds” remain free to target them again.
The CNRP has called the assault a repetition of past violent incidents against other party members and suggested they were organized by the CPP in response to an anti-Hun Sen demonstration by Cambodian expatriates in Paris, which infuriated the prime minister during his visit.
Before his departure to France, Hun Sen had warned his detractors that if Cambodian opposition supporters were to effectively hold their planned demonstration against him while he was in Paris, his supporters would attack and create trouble for Sam Rainsy's supporters back home.
The CPP has denied claims that it was behind the protest.
Reported by Tha Kethya, Samean Yun and Hong Sokunthea. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.