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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Rejects K5 Project Accusations

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at his political rivals on Thursday as he defended a failed plan to secure the country’s border after the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Known as K5, the plan has been described as an attempt to build a kind of “Berlin Wall” on the Thai border in an effort to prevent the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge and other guerillas from reestablishing their bases and infiltrating Cambodia after their defeat by the Vietnamese in the late 1970s.

“The K5 Plan was conceived as a plan to defend the nation by preventing the return of the genocidal Pol Pot regime,” Hun Sen said in a speech at a commencement exercise.

“It should have been you guys that are held responsible for the tragedy of the Cambodian people,” he added in a reference to his political opposition.

While K5 was never completed, it’s estimated that up to a million Cambodian workers were pressed into duty as slave laborers to clear the land for the proposed fortifications.

Thousands of Cambodians and ethnic Chinese died from disease or were killed or disabled by land mines as they labored on the ill-conceived project, which was bedeviled by corruption and mismanagement.

Hun Sen’s own previous involvement with the Khmer Rouge is clouded in secrecy, and his relationship with Vietnam has become a potent political issue as the opposition has attempted to paint him as Hanoi’s stooge.

With K5, the Vietnamese military command in Cambodia began hacking a path through the jungle along the border with the intent to mine and fortify the border in 1984.

At the time Hun Sen was a rising figure in the Vietnamese-installed government that ruled the country. In early 1985 he was elevated to the post of prime minister.

The late Sin Sen, who was Deputy Interior Minister for the People’s Republic of Kampuchea—as the country was known at the time—has said that Hun Sen ran the operation.

“K5 was led by Hun Sen. He was assigned the responsibility by Vietnam,” Sin Sen said according to the 2015 report “30 Years of Hun Sen” written by the London-based investigative nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch.

‘Khmer hands’ to kill Cambodians

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Sam Rainsy raised the issue anew in recent posts on his Facebook page.

In a Jan. 27 post, Sam Rainsy described K5 as a Vietnamese strategy to continue killing Cambodians in the post-Khmer Rouge regime.

According to the Facebook post, Vietnam “continued to borrow Khmer hands to kill one another” by changing the leadership in Cambodia when it installed Hun Sen as prime minister.

“They sue me for trivial accusations related to recent political events or controversies, but they don’t dare sue me when I accuse them of being involved in crimes against humanity, because they cannot deny the historical facts,” he wrote in a Jan. 31 Facebook post.

Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.

In September, Sam Rainsy was found guilty of defamation for claiming that Hun Sen’s social medial team had bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase the appearance of support.

In October, Hun Sen ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent the opposition leader from returning to the country, as Sam Rainsy has pledged to do before the country’s elections.

And in December, Sam Rainsy was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia for posting what authorities said was a fake government pledge to dissolve the Southeast Asian country’s border with Vietnam.

Local elections in Cambodia are set for later this year, with national elections scheduled for 2018.

In his speech on Thursday, Hun Sen defended his actions and attempted to turn the tables on his rivals as he blamed them for aligning with the Khmer Rouge.

“Why did you make an alliance with the Khmer Rouge when they tried to destroy the revival of the Cambodian people?” he asked rhetorically.

“I just defended [the country] against the return of the Pol Pot regime, and there was nothing wrong with that.”

Reported by Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannrith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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North Korean Restaurants Fail in Cambodia

With fewer customers coming in the doors, one North Korean restaurant operating near Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple complex has closed while another is struggling to stay in business, a local source says.

Both had experienced difficulties following last year’s strengthening of U.N. sanctions curbing funds for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, a South Korean resident of Cambodia’s Siem Reap province told RFA’s Korean Service.

South Korean tourists visiting Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat then also began to stay away, Jang Won-Pyo, secretary-general of the province’s Korean Society Association said.

“One restaurant, the Pyongyang Chinsun Kwan, the Friendship Restaurant, closed last October,” Jang said.

“It suddenly went out of business because its profits were less than those of the Pyongyang Naengmyeon Kwan, the Cold Noodle Restaurant.”

The Pyongyang Naengmyeon Kwan, a large restaurant considered a model for North Korean restaurants operating abroad, is also struggling and may close soon, Jang said.

“The restaurant is still running, but has very few customers,” he said.

As many as eight North Korean restaurants were operating in Cambodia in late 2015, but only eight—including one in the capital Phnom Penh and the one still open in Siem Reap—are believed to be still in business, Jang said.

Some North Korean restaurants, which pull in foreign currency for North Korea’s cash-strapped regime, have also recently closed in China and in Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand.

Restaurants in Chinese cities like Shenyang and Dandong near the North Korean border also suffered downturns last year as North Koreans working in cross-border trade began to avoid them, fearing that agents of the regime would watch them there and monitor their movements.

Reported by Jaewan Noh for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Refuses to Allow Ministers to Appear for Questioning

By refusing to make some of his cabinet available for questioning by the National Assembly, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is continuing his attempts to put his opposition on the sidelines.

In a Tuesday interview Hun Sen told the pro-government media outlet Fresh News that he is refusing to allow three of his ministers to respond to questioning in the National Assembly.

Members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) wanted to grill Minister of National Defense Tea Banh, Minister of Agriculture Veng Sakhon, and Minister of Labor and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng on a range of issues.

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay told RFA’s Khmer Service that Hun Sen’s decision runs contrary to the National Assembly’s rules and the country’s constitution.

“He [Hun Sen] violates the constitution and the internal rules of the National Assembly,” Lao Mong Hay said. “The internal rules say questions and answers shall occur every Thursday.”

While opposition lawmakers have the right to question the ministers, the ministers also have protections, Lao Mong Hay explained.

“There are also conditions for the questions to be raised,” he said. “For example, it is forbidden to ask questions related to cases being processed by the court.”

Military promotions, the border and labor issues

Those protections could stifle some questions, but opposition lawmakers could still put the ministers on the spot as the ongoing controversy over the demarcation of the border with Vietnam, a lack of jobs, and the recent promotion of three soldiers who pled guilty to beating a pair of opposition lawmakers could be fair game.

CNRP Chief Whip Son Chhay told RFA he wants to see a written letter from Hun Sen explaining why the ministers cannot appear before the National Assembly.

“We want to question them about reform,” he said.

“Does the ministry of national defense have a proper mechanism to defend the territory; for promotions in rank, et cetera?” he added. “Because lately we have noticed that some guys without the proper background have been promoted too quickly. We just want to know the procedures.”

On May 27, 2016 soldiers Mao Hoeun, Sot Vanny, and Chay Sarith pled guilty to assaulting CNRP lawmakers Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun.

All three men were members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, an elite operation within the Cambodian armed forces that functions as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Asia’s longest-serving national leader.

Though the three pled guilty to the attack, they served only a year of their four-year sentence in prison.

Soon after they were released in November, the men were promoted, although it’s unclear whether they still remain in the bodyguard unit.

Chay Sarith was promoted from colonel to brigadier general by a royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni dated Nov. 22. Sot Vanny and Mao Hoeun were promoted from lieutenant colonel to full colonel on Nov. 17.

The border issue has been a potent political issue as opposition lawmakers have often accused Hun Sen of ceding land to neighboring Vietnam and of having an uncomfortably cozy relationship with Hanoi.

Labor issues have also bedeviled Cambodia for years, and CNRP lawmakers want to probe the exploitation of Cambodians working overseas and issues involving the issuance of passports and visas for workers.

‘These threats show the panic of Hun Sen’

Hun Sen’s decision to keep his ministers from testifying comes after he launched a new attack on the opposition.

In a Tuesday speech before the National Assembly, Hun Sen pushed for legislation that would bar his chief political rival from heading a political party and threatened to seize and auction off the CNRP’s headquarters.

Those threats came after the National Assembly stripped CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha of his minority leader title. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) holds a majority in the National Assembly.

“Threatening to have CNRP headquarters seized looks like an attempt to eliminate the party by destroying the CNRP leadership and foundation,” said independent analyst Meas Ny. “If it happened as per Mr. Hun Sen’s speech, it would be a big danger for the CNRP.”

Via his Facebook page, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy described Hun Sen’s latest actions as those of a man desperate to hold on to power.

“These threats show the panic of Hun Sen as his certain defeat in the communal elections in June 2017 and the legislative elections of July 2018 draw closer,” Rainsy wrote in his post. “He no longer has any appeal to the electorate, so he personally hounds me, as I am the symbol of resistance to his autocratic and corrupt power.”

In September, Sam Rainsy was found guilty of defamation for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team had bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase the appearance of support.

And in December, he was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia for posting what authorities said was a fake government pledge to dissolve the Southeast Asian country’s border with Vietnam.

Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.

Despite what appears to be a vendetta against him, Sam Rainsy said that he remains confident he will prevail in the end.

“Hun Sen has tried for years to misuse the courts to exclude me from politics and to suppress or divide the CNRP, so in that sense there is nothing new,” he wrote in the post.

“He has failed because the CNRP remains a united force that will defeat him in the 2017 and 2018 elections.”

Reported by Zakariya Tin and Sarada Taing for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodian Crackdown on ‘Culprits’ Targets Hun Sen’s Opponents

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is stepping up the pressure on his chief political rival as he pushes the National Assembly to approve legislation preventing so-called “culprits” from heading a political party.

“It is necessary that we amend the Law on Political Parties by stipulating clearly that any individual with culprit status shall not be entitled to serve as president or vice-president of any political party,” he said in a floor speech at the National Assembly on Tuesday.

“I request that the National Assembly add this [clause] to strip them off their rights,” he added.

The change would remove Sam Rainsy from the top post of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) because he has been convicted in several court cases brought by members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen.

Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence and are often used by the ruling party to punish dissidents and opposition party officials.

Hun Sen is likely to prevail in the legislature as the ruling party has enough votes to amend the Law on Political Parties because it requires only a bare majority to succeed. This means Hun Sen has to get the votes of 63 lawmakers, and the ruling party holds 68 seats.

Hun Sen is also targeting property held by the CNRP lawmaker.

Opposition party headquarters targeted

Hun Sen told the National Assembly that he wants to confiscate the CNRP’s headquarters as a way of enforcing a judgement against Sam Rainsy in a lawsuit he has yet to win.

“I heard that the [CNRP] headquarters was registered in Sam Rainsy’s name, so let’s have his party’s headquarters sold at auction,” Hun Sen said in the speech. “He walks freely by fleeing his jail sentences. A lot of properties belong [to Sam Rainsy] including his plot[s] of land in Kompong Som province.”

In a $1 million lawsuit, Hun Sen has accused his political rival of defamation for remarks made during a Jan. 14 speech in Paris in which Sam Rainsy accused the Cambodian strongman of giving a $1 million bribe to rising opposition social media star Thy Sovantha to persuade her to switch loyalties.

Thy Sovantha had made a name for herself by attacking Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) through social media, but she abruptly changed her tune this year and began attacking Kem Sokha as the government engaged in a wide-ranging probe into a purported affair between him and a young hairdresser.

In December, Kem Sokha and provincial CNRP official Seang Chet were granted royal pardons in the case against the CNRP leader, but five other people accused in connection with the case remain in prison.

In his Jan. 14 remarks, Sam Rainsy, who was joined by Kem Sokha via Skype, talked about what he called the judicial double standard faced by the CNRP’s members and human rights workers who are jailed on charges over what amounted to a few hundred dollars.

Leaked phone messages allegedly show the prime minister’s second son Hun Manith – head of the military’s intelligence unit – conspiring with Thy Sovantha to discredit Kem Sokha, according to local media reports.

While Thy Sovantha filed a separate defamation lawsuit against Sam Rainsy that seeks $250,000 in damages, Sam Rainsy has been down this legal road before, as there have been at least six lawsuits filed against him by government or CPP figures.

In September he was found guilty of defamation for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase the appearance of support.

And in December, he was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia for posting what authorities said was a fake government pledge to dissolve the Southeast Asian country’s border with Vietnam.

Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest for a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.

In October, Hun Sen ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent the opposition leader from returning to the country, as Sam Rainsy has pledged to do before the country’s elections.

Cambodia’s local elections are set for June 2017 and national elections are scheduled for 2018. In the disputed 2013 elections, the CPP lost 22 seats in its worst showing since 1998.

Minority leader title stripped

Adopted in 1997, the Law on Political Parties consists of 11 Chapters with 45 articles, but it contains no language that lays out punishments for any individual with “culprit status.”

Age restrictions are the only limits the Cambodian constitution places on political office as it fails to mention “culprit status” preventing anyone from serving.

“A political party is the only institution which is entitled to solely choose its party president, and Mr. Sam Rainsy is our party president,” said CNRP Chief Whip Son Chhay.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)’s Executive Director Koul Panha told RFA’s Khmer Service that the attempt to amend the Law on Political Parties was unfair.

“In a fair election environment, each party involved shall not be pressured by court orders, the armed forces or the National Assembly,” he said.

Tuesday’s move against  “culprits” came after the National Assembly at the behest of Hun Sen stripped the minority leader title from CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha.

CNRP lawmakers boycotted the National Assembly session in protest.

Hun Sen keeps opposition in jail

Hun Sen also dashed hopes that two opposition lawmakers, Hong Sok Hour and Um Sam An, could be released from prison, telling the National Assembly they pose a danger to CPP members.

“I think these cases should not be touched because they are too serious and could pose a danger to [then] President of the State Council, Mr. Heng Samrin, who was accused of signing a deal to eliminate the border [between Vietnam and Cambodia],” he said. “It was not right.”

In November,  Hong Sok Hour was found  guilty of forging and publishing public documents and of incitement to cause instability, when he posted a disputed copy of a 1979 Cambodia-Vietnam treaty on Facebook that said the two countries had agreed to dissolve their mutual border.

Um Sam An was handed a two-and-a half year sentence in October for “inciting discrimination” and “inciting social instability” for posts on the lawmaker’s Facebook page accusing the CPP of failing to stop land encroachment by Vietnam and using improper maps to demarcate the border between the two former colonies of France.

Hun Sen had ordered police in April to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979 to overthrow the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen also raised the Boeung Kak Lake case, and the case of the “Kem Sokha Five’” in his speech.

Hun Sen said he will use his prime minister’s privilege to decide if he will ask King Norodom Sihamoni for a pardon in the Boeung Kak Lake case, but he described the action of the activists there as a “riot.”

Land rights activist Tep Vanny was convicted on Sept. 19 of insulting and obstructing public officials and was sentenced to six months in prison in relation to a protest in November 2011 near Hun Sen’s residence.

She first gained prominence as an activist fighting the Boeung Kak Lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from the neighborhood surrounding the urban lake in Phnom Penh. The lake was later filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the CPP.

Seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—is a major cause of protests in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Laos.

As for the “Kem Sokha Five,” the prime minister said he had to wait for the legal process to run its course.

“In accordance with the law, it takes two months for a judgment to be final,” he said.  “We cannot request amnesty while the judgement is not yet entered into force.”

Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan—all workers for ADHOC (the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association—and National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya have been imprisoned since April.

They are accused of attempting to pay hush money to Kem Sokha’s purported mistress in the government’s wide-ranging probe into the alleged affair that many inside and outside of Cambodia see as politically motivated.

Cambodia is “not free”

Hun Sen’s moves come as the U.S.-based watchdog group Freedom House ranked Cambodia “Not Free” in its “Freedom in the World 2017” report. Cambodia clocked in at a 5.5 rating with one representing the greatest degree of freedom and 7 the smallest degree of freedom.

Spokesperson of the Office of the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan told RFA the report does not reflect reality.

“It is a report written by those reactionary cliques aiming at sabotaging Cambodia,” he said. “They arrange their people to create such reports to be used by their echoing tools, including Radio Free Asia.”

He added: “Had we taken proper measures, RFA would never exist here, because we know clearly that RFA is a tool for sabotaging the government.”

Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Director Chak Sopheap took a different view.

“Citizens or civil society, in particular those [opposition political] analysts have always suffered from harassment, including being charged with criminal case of defamation,” she said.

Reported by Vuthy Tha, Sonorng Khe and Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Fearing Re-Arrest, Cambodian Activists Skip Appeals Hearing

Citing government intimidation and fears of arrest, three Cambodian environmental activists will skip an appeals court hearing on Tuesday they had earlier requested, saying they will remain in hiding in a neighboring country until the court issues its ruling.

Activist San Mala told RFA’s Khmer Service on Jan. 29 that he and fellow activists Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang will not appear at the Appellate Court’s Jan. 31 hearing on a request they had filed last year to overturn a previous conviction.

“We have no faith in the Cambodian courts,” San Mala said. “In the past, the courts have never given justice to activists or poor [Cambodians] who were in legal conflict with powerful figures or private companies.”

“This is why we will boycott the hearing at the Appellate Court,” he said.

The three activists, members of the Cambodian environmental NGO Mother Nature, were first taken into custody on Aug. 17, 2015 after they failed to appear at a Koh Kong provincial police station to answer questions about their involvement in a protest against two Vietnamese firms engaged in sand-dredging operations.

Dredging in the area had caused pollution and riverbank collapse, as well as reduced fish and crab populations on which local fishermen depend for their livelihoods, the Cambodian environmental group alleged.

Later sentenced to 18 months in jail, the three were released on July 1, 2016 after the remainder of their sentence was suspended, and they immediately lodged an appeal asking that their convictions be overturned.

Warnings, threats

Speaking to RFA, Mother Nature founder Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson said however that the activists were recently threatened and warned to drop their appeal.

“The three were intimidated by government officials,” Davidson said.

“We now fear that powerful figures, those standing behind the Appellate Court, will order judges to arrest the three and send them back to jail without presentation of evidence or witnesses being called,” he said.

“At last year’s hearing at the Koh Kong provincial court, the court didn’t follow legal procedures. Instead, they just followed orders given by powerful people.”

Meanwhile, a group of 48 Cambodian civil society organizations (CSOs) called in an open letter on Sunday on the Appeals Court to overturn what it called the “wrongful convictions” of the three Mother Nature activists.

“San Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang are not criminals; they are brave environmental defenders who have made enormous contributions to protecting Cambodia’s precious natural resources,” the group said in its statement.

“[But] in retaliation for their activism, they were convicted on politically motivated charges.”

These convictions must now be overturned, the group said.

Reported by Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Soldier Who Beat Cambodian Lawmakers is Now a General

Cambodia’s opposition party wants the country’s defense minister to explain why three soldiers convicted of assaulting a pair of lawmakers recently won promotions, with one receiving the rank of brigadier general.

A senior Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday that opposition lawmakers will summon National Defense Minister Tea Banh to the National Assembly to clarify why the three soldiers were promoted.

“If there are irregularities in the promotions which could affect the interest of the nation or national security, our lawmakers are entitled to question and request that the [relevant] ministers to clarify the matter,” said Ho Vann, an opposition member of the National Assembly.

“If the clarification cannot be made, the National Assembly has the power to issue a motion as a reproach,” he said.

A date for Tea Banh to address the issue has yet to be set, Ho Vann said. Tea Banh also holds the deputy prime minister title.

On Oct. 26, 2015, CNRP lawmakers Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun were dragged from their vehicles and savagely beaten by protesters after the two men attended a morning meeting of the legislature.

The assault carried the hallmarks of a well-planned, well-coordinated attack by well-trained individuals, and three members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit admitted taking part in the assault.

While Mao Hoeun, Sot Vanny, and Chay Sarith pled guilty to the assault on May 27, 2016, video footage shows at least two dozen men involved in the attack.

All three men are members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, an elite operation within the Cambodian armed forces that functions as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Asia’s longest-serving despot.

Though the three men were convicted of the attack, they served only a year of their four-year sentence in prison.

Soon after they were released in November, the men were promoted, although it’s unclear whether they still remain in the bodyguard unit.

Chay Sarith was promoted from colonel to brigadier general by a royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni dated November 22, while Sot Vanny and Mao Hoeun were promoted from lieutenant colonel full colonel on Nov. 17.

Encouraging attacks

“Such promotions are an encouragement to the offenders to further attack lawmakers,” Kong Saphea told RFA. “It is a systematic arrangement by those powerful people behind them.”

“While we can’t even yet receive justice, they encourage the offenders through the promotions,” he added. “It’s another bad sign for the nation that such promotions go against the legal system as they are still subject to investigations by the courts although their sentences were suspended for three years and they were the culprits.”

The attack occurred as more than 1,000 supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) surrounded the parliament building, calling for CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha to step down as first vice president of the National Assembly.

The brazen attack took place in broad daylight while video cameras filmed it. It was condemned by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations. Human rights groups characterized it as part of a wider campaign that Hun Sen and his allies are waging against the political opposition in Cambodia.

The lawmakers suffered broken noses, a ruptured eardrum, and broken bones and teeth. Nhay Chamraoen required surgery to save his sight in one eye.

Human rights organizations decried the promotions of the three soldiers.

“Lawmakers represent the citizens as a whole and have immunity,” said Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). “But when lawmakers are physically attacked and those attackers are given promotions, it produces a negative effect as it results in lawmakers living in fear.”

Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP) President Hong Kim Suon questioned the legality of the promotions.

“They were the culprits, and in legal principle, they cannot be promoted or given any positions,” he said.

Attempts to contact National Defense Ministry’s spokesperson Chhum Socheat for further comments were unsuccessful, but he told local media the soldiers had paid their debt to society.

“Their punishment has already been served through the court, they can go back to work, and promotions will be given according to individual [circumstances],” Socheat told The Phnom Penh Post, adding that the decision was approved by an evaluation committee.

U.N. condemns detentions

While the soldiers received light sentences for the beatings and have been promoted, four human rights activists and a National Election Committee official remain in jail in what many believe to be a vendetta by Hun Sen and the CPP.

Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, all workers for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya have been imprisoned since April.

They are also accused of attempting to pay hush money to Kem Sokha’s purported mistress in the government’s wide-ranging probe into the alleged affair that many inside and outside Cambodia see as politically motivated.

The “ADHOC Five” remain in jail, and Kem Sokha was granted royal pardons in the case against the CNRP leader.

On Wednesday two U.N. human rights experts called on the Cambodian government to immediately release them.

“The use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders is incompatible with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which has been signed by Cambodia,” said Rhona Smith, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

Smith’s call was also endorsed by human rights expert Sètondji Roland Adjovi, who currently heads the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

In November, the working group called for the immediate release of the ADHOC Five and recognized their right to compensation in accordance with the ICCPR.

“The Working Group found that the deprivation of liberty of individuals in question, being in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary,” Adjovi said.

Demoting Kem Sokha

While the international community was condemning the detentions, RFA has learned that the National Assembly’s powerful Permanent Committee is planning to strip Kem Sokha of his minority leader status.

The Permanent Committee scheduled an extraordinary session on Jan. 31 to vote to amend the rules so the title can be taken away. The session comes after a recommendation by the Legislation Commission of the National Assembly.

National Assembly spokesperson Chheang Vun told reporters after the meeting that Hun Sen wants to amend the National Assembly’s rules so Kem Sokha’s title can be removed.

The minority leader’s position was created as part of a mechanism to engender détente between the country’s political leaders.

“There are reasons,” he said. “Samdech [honorific] Hun Sen, president of the Cambodian People’s Party, has requested this process, and it was the Legislation Commission’s view that the mechanism cannot be implemented because it has been employed to violate other powers due to dishonest practices.”

Ho Vann told RFA that taking away the title is another example of Hun Sen’s attempts to weaken the legislature’s power. Samdech is an honorary title bestowed by the Cambodian king that roughly translates to “lord” in English.

“Such a mechanism was established less than two years ago, and now it is about to be abrogated,” he said. “Citizens and journalists can see this themselves. This is another weakness of our National Assembly.”

Reported by Khorn Savi, Morm Moniroth, and Tha Vuthy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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