Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen voiced regret on Thursday that he hadn’t had leaders of protests against his ruling Cambodian People’s Party in 2013 and 2014 killed, saying only that he hadn’t wanted to do this “at the time.”
Speaking to a gathering of hundreds of workers, Hun Sen said that protest leaders had been lucky to escape Cambodia after the protests, which saw opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party members attacked and dispersed by security forces, with at least one shot dead and several others wounded by gunfire in 2013.
“I want to let you know that if you hadn’t fled Cambodia, you would already have had your funeral,” Hun Sen said in remarks apparently addressed to former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, now living in exile in France after fleeing a string of convictions in Cambodian courts widely seen as politically motivated.
“We didn’t pursue you because we didn’t want to kill you at the time,” Hun Sen said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service from France, Sam Rainsy said that Hun Sen’s comments show he is a dictator who is not afraid to kill to maintain his hold on power.
“Please don’t forget that Hun Sen is a former soldier,” Sam Rainsy said. “He is not afraid to kill people.”
Also speaking to RFA, Richard Rogers—a London-based lawyer who filed an international complaint in 2014 on behalf of Cambodian victims of land grabs—voiced shock at Hun Sen’s remarks.
“Threatening to kill someone, threatening to kill someone without lawful excuse, is illegal in itself,” Rogers said. “So Hun Sen has effectively threatened to kill someone simply for demonstrating, and that’s in fact a crime.”
“So it’s quite shocking, and it’s a shame that instead of listening to the people and trying to address their frustrations, he will simply threaten them,” he said.
Cambodian security forces had in fact fired into unarmed crowds in anti-government protests in the past, “so he’s proven that he’s certainly accepting of his security forces doing that,” Rogers said.
“And maybe he even suggested to them that they do that. So that’s quite shocking.”
On Sept. 15, 2013, deadly violence broke out in Phnom Penh as tens of thousands of Cambodians protested for the second weekend in a row to back calls for an independent probe into charges of election fraud, which the opposition said had robbed them of victory in July 28 polls.
Security forces shot dead one protester and wounded several others when they opened fire and used tear gas and water cannon in clashes with protesters in the tension-filled capital.
Four top CNRP lawmakers were detained and at least 30 protesters injured the following year as CNRP members moved to end a government blockade of Freedom Park, the country’s main protest grounds in Phnom Penh.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.