Hun Sen is threatening the opposition and trying to divide the party ahead of the July elections

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In a repeat of what has become a pattern in recent weeks, Prime Minister Hun Sen again lashed out at the main opposition Candlelight Party on Thursday in a bid to intimidate and divide it ahead of July’s general election.

First, in response to allegations that he was threatening the opposition, he said his opponents were lucky he had not sent thugs to attack their headquarters.

“You have two options, first we can use the court,” Hun Sen said during one public appearance at a hospital building inspection. “Second, we can beat you at home for not listening. Which option do you prefer? The second? Don’t be rude.”

He then offered to allow former opposition legislator Ho Vann to return to Cambodia from exile in the United States — as long as he renounces Sam Rainsy, one of Hun Sen’s main political rivals.

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This is the third time in the past two weeks that Hun Sen – who has ruled Cambodia since 1985 – and his Cambodian People’s Party have targeted opposition politicians.

Earlier this week, Thach Setha, Vice President of the Candlelight Party, was arrested on charges of writing counterfeit checks – charges that opposition activists say are politically motivated.

About two weeks ago, Hun Sen targeted Kong Korm, a former deputy foreign minister who is now a senior adviser to the Candlelight Party, demanding that he return his home in Phnom Penh, worth about $10 million to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

From left: Kong Korm, Candlelight Party consultant; Thach Setha, Vice President of the Candlelight Party; and Son Chhay, Vice President of the Candlelight Party. Credit: Candlelight Party Facebook page [left] and The Bharat Express News

The government and the CPP claim that none of the cases are politically motivated, but the Candlelight Party said in a statement that the cases were examples of political persecution.

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“The Candlelight Party strongly opposes pressures, threats and prosecutions by the ruling party and demanded the ruling party end it immediately,” a statement said, adding that it would continue to work to ensure that the elections would be free and fair.

The statement also called on the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which were to provide the framework for Cambodia to become an independent democratic country, to “fulfill their duties to ensure compliance with the human rights implementation of democracy and pluralism in Cambodia.”

“Don’t assume that every case is a politically motivated one. I beg you, but there will be a legal action against you,” Hun Sen said of Thach Setha on Thursday.

“You cannot issue a statement blaming the ruling party for intimidation. Please be careful, the CPP will charge you,” he said. “You have issued bad checks, so if there is a lawsuit, it is very appropriate.”

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Hun Sen asked his legal team to study the Candlelight Party’s statement to file a complaint, asking Candlelight to apologize if it wanted to avoid a lawsuit. The ruling party has also issued a statement denying Candlelight’s claims.

Ho Vann has been convicted in absentia on sedition charges and would face a lengthy prison sentence if returned. He told the RFA’s Khmer Service that he would consider Hun Sen’s offer of pardon, although other activists lured back to Cambodia have been jailed.

“This would be one of the most important decisions of my life,” said Ho Vann. “I love my life, society and my country.”

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.