Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking to distance his ruling party from the brutal attacks on two opposition lawmakers last week.
In a public speech for the inauguration of a sewage and drainage system in Phnom Penh Thursday, Hun Sen said the attackers were not participants last week in the anti-opposition demonstration the preceded the assaults outside parliament. Instead, he said they were a group of men who were angered at the lawmakers for calling them “Vietnamese puppets.”
Witnesses have identified members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), as well as the police and military, as anti-government “protesters” who demonstrated outside the National Assembly last week, just prior to the brutal attacks on lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea by masked men.
Hun Sen also offered pointed criticism of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, and the CNRP's continued attacks on Cambodia’s relationship with Vietnam.
“In order to have good dialogue, there is only one way: both sides need to stop attacking or insulting each other. There should not be mention of ‘Vietnamese puppets’ in every circumstance. And those who beat up the lawmakers were not protesters. They had dispersed. On the TV broadcast, those who turned themselves in said those in the car cursed them as ‘[Vietnam's puppets].’ They did the beatings because those men were angry,” said Sen.
Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, who spoke with VOA at a hospital in Bangkok where they are being treated, denied insulting anyone.
“No we didn’t," said Nhay Chamroeun. "We are high ranking top officials. We don’t curse or use such words. You can see from the video. They broke my car’s window and dragged me out. There was no insulting. What [Hun Sen] said is wrong. It is not right. I wish to deny the allegation.”
They also called for further investigation into the assaults, in which three men have been charged after turning themselves into police this week.
Human Rights Watch has condemned last week’s protests and attacks, saying they are reminiscent of CPP attacks on the opposition in the 1990s, a period of political upheaval and threat to CPP power.
CNRP leader Rainsy and Interior Minister Sar Kheng held a closed-door meeting Wednesday, seeking to restore a working relationship between the ruling and opposition parties. A Rescue Party spokesman said the informal talks were meant to quell tensions between the two sides.
Hun Sen Thursday called the meeting a “step forward.”
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.