PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's prime minister on Thursday demanded the arrest of an opposition senator, accusing him of treason for comments posted on Facebook criticizing a 36-year-old border agreement with neighboring Vietnam.
Hun Sen called for the arrest of Hong Sok Hour in a speech at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, in the latest in a string of attacks on political opponents. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has been seeking political benefit by saying Vietnam has been encroaching on Cambodian soil, and its efforts have ramped up tension at the border.
Police said Hong Sok Hour has not yet been taken into custody, while Cambodian media cited his associates as saying he is in "a safe place."
Parliament would normally need to lift the immunity from arrest normally accorded lawmakers, which Hun Sen's ruling party has enough votes to easily do.
The opposition says the courts, under Hun Sen's influence, are pressuring them to drop the border issue by jailing their activists on insurrection charges in connection with a violent protest last year. In recent weeks, Hun Sen has used his public speeches to deliver what amounts to arrest orders, which are generally carried out quickly.
Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades, and while Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents.
Hun Sen said in his speech that Hong Sok Hour posted misleading material about a border agreement signed in 1979 between Cambodia and Vietnam to confuse the public. Hun Sen was foreign minister at that time in a government installed by a Vietnamese occupation force that invaded Cambodia to oust the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
Hun Sen spoke in a strong, emotional voice as he asked his audience, "Do you want the nation to be in a chaotic situation?"
"I beg the Cambodian people, please do not blame the government, because an act of treason like this cannot be tolerated," Hun Sen said. "This is a crime that amounts to treason. If an uprising (against Vietnam) occurs because of this comment and causes a war with our neighbor, who will be responsible?"
Hun Sen appealed to foreign embassies not to shelter Hong Sok Hour or otherwise intervene in the case. The comment seemed to relate to Hong Sok Hour's reported dual Cambodian-French citizenship. The website of the Phnom Penh Post newspaper said a French Embassy spokesman denied the politician was hiding there.