Cambodia arrests opposition leader on treason charge

Reuters
Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested in a police raid on his home early today and Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason with the backing of the United States.
Reuters
AFP

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha (L) is escorted by police at his home in Phnom Penh on September 3, 2017.

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested in a police raid on his home early today and veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason with the backing of the United States.

“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 said of the alleged foreign third party: “It’s the United States.”

Hun Sen, 65, has ruled the Southeast Asian country for more than three decades.

Kem Sokha, 64, has led the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party 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.

If Kem Sokha is found guilty of any offense, it could allow the government to shut the party under a new law that forbids parties from having a leader who has been convicted.

Kem Sokha’s daughter Monovithya Kem, also a party official, said on Twitter that her father had been taken away handcuffed after a raid by between 100 and 200 police, who had arrived without an arrest warrant. She said his whereabouts was unknown.

Neither the US State Department nor the White House responded immediately to a request for comment.

The government last month ordered the expulsion of the US State Department-funded National Democratic Institute pro-democracy group. Earlier in the year, it suspended joint military exercises with the United States, which has voiced fears over the human rights situation.

During Hun Sen’s rule Cambodia emerged from the devastating Khmer Rouge genocide to enjoy record years of economic growth of above 7 percent.

His Cambodian People’s Party won local elections in June, but the opposition also did well, raising hopes of a close contest in the general election due in 2018.

Kem Sokha took over the party leadership after his predecessor Sam Rainsy resigned in February.

Sam Rainsy lives in exile in France to avoid a defamation conviction he says was politically motivated.

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