PHNOM PENH: Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested in a police raid on his home and veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason with the backing of the United States.
The arrest early yesterday marks an escalation in a campaign against critics, independent media and any potential threats to Hun Sen’s hold on power ahead of an election next year at which Kem Sokha has been expected to be his main challenger.
“It’s an act of treason with conspiracy with a foreign country, betraying his own nation. This requires arrest,” Hun Sen told a group of garment workers, according to the pro-government Fresh News website.
Hun Sen, 65, said of the alleged foreign third party: “It’s the United States.”
Kem Sokha, 64, has led the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) since his predecessor resigned in February, saying he feared a government plan to shut it down.
The government released a video on its Facebook page in which Kem Sokha appeared to tell a group of supporters about a strategy to win power which he said had the support of “the Americans” rather than an immediate plot to topple Hun Sen.
In the video, which the government said was shot in Australia, Kem Sokha said the Americans had hired academics to advise on strategy to change Cambodia’s leaders.
“And if I follow such a tactic and strategy and if I could not win, I do not know what else to do,” he said.
The opposition party made no immediate comment on the veracity or content of the video. Earlier, it said Kem Sokha’s arrest was politically motivated and violated the law because of the immunity granted to elected lawmakers.
The party called for his release and urged the international community to intervene. It wanted a non-violent approach, it said.
If Kem Sokha is found guilty of any offence, it could allow the government to shut the party under a new law that forbids parties from having a leader who has been convicted. —Reuters