A senior advisor to Cambodia’s opposition party resigned after authorities announced plans to pursue a lawsuit against him, alleging that comments he had made in January condemning the seizure of his property showed “malicious intent” to cause social unrest.
The suit is the latest effort by the longtime Cambodian strongman and his Cambodian People’s Party to target members of the Candlelight Party, which has emerged as the CPP’s main opposition in the run-up to general elections scheduled for July.
Kong Korm, 80, stepped down after the CPP filed a lawsuit against him for U.S. $500,000. Hun Sen had already demanded the return of the house and land Kong Korm was allowed to use when he was a CPP official in the 1980s and early 1990s. Though he claimed the property legally belonged to him, Kong Korm forfeited it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after Hun Sen ordered an investigation.
As a member of the Candlelight Party, Kong Korm has attacked the CPP verbally, prompting a warning from Hun Sen that he would take legal action if the advisor continued his criticism.
In a letter dated Jan. 31 and released publicly on Thursday, Kong Korm apologized to Hun Sen and the CPP for forcing the party to file a lawsuit against him, and said his association with the Candlelight Party had been a mistake.
“I accepted my mistakes and apologized to the CPP president who deemed my latest political activities caused harm to CPP leaders’ dignity and disturbed society harmony,” wrote Kong Korm, who served as Cambodia’s foreign minister from 1986 to 1987.
“After reviewing the reasons and considerations on the new world order as well as the environment of regional geopolitics, especially Cambodia’s politics that is paying attention to the next generation, I, Kong Korm, have decided to end the duty and activities as the advisor of the Candlelight Party as of now,” he said.
Kong Korm and his family have moved out of the house, which together with the property has an appraised value of U.S. $13 million dollars.
Candlelight Party spokesman Kimsour Phirith said the party respected Kong Korm’s decision, which the spokesman said was made for health reasons.
RFA could not reach Kong Korm for comment on Thursday.
CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun said no one pressured Kong Korm to resign and that Hun Sen and the CPP would not benefit from his departure.
“It is normal for people to have mutual forgiveness,” he told RFA. “Kong Korm has retired, and this is a personal decision.”
Cambodian political commentator Kim Sok suggested that Kong Korm might have been pressured to give up his role, though his departure would not hurt the Candlelight Party’s popularity.
“Kong Korm decided to lose his house and land, so it is clear that his personal security is at risk,” he said.
Government authorities have been cracking down on Candlelight Party members ahead of the July 23 vote to elect members of the National Assembly. Hun Sen has repeatedly attacked his opponents in public forums. CPP authorities have also sued Candlelight members on what many observers see as politically motivated charges.
The Cambodian People’s Party holds all seats in Parliament. Hun Sen, who has been in power for nearly 38 years, will seek another five-year term in office in the upcoming election.
Translated by Samean Yun for RFA Khmer. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Jim Snyder.