Former opposition commune chief Sin Rozeth was pulled up today by the Battambang town governor for a tongue-in-cheek banner outside her noodle shop joking that "rebels" were not welcome – a reference to accusations that her restaurant was being used as a de facto headquarters for the Cambodia National Rescue Movement.
Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Chheang Vun made the allegation last week, saying the restaurant was being used to support the new Sam Rainsy-led "movement", which the government has dubbed - without evidence - a "terrorist" organisation, despite its professed commitment to nonviolence.
In response to the accusations, Rozeth put up a small sign that read: "Rozeth's shop welcomes all guests, but not rebels."
The joke, however, was apparently lost on local Cambodian People's Party officials, who summoned Rozeth for a meeting at town hall with Battambang Governor Peng Sithy today. Rozeth said she was admonished for putting up the sign and using the world "rebel", which Sithy said suggested the country was in the midst of conflict or war.
The word, however, has been used repeatedly by CPP officials to describe former members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party - the country's only viable opposition, which was forcibly dissolved in November over accusations it was plotting regime change. Prime Minister Hun Sen himself has also used the term, while adopting a decidedly bellicose tone towards Rainsy's movement. In a public speech just last week, the premier threatened to respond with heavy weapons should the CNRM rear its head in Cambodia.
But Rozeth - a popular political newcomer who has repeatedly found herself in the crosshairs of ruling party officials - said today that Sithy warned her that using such language could damage the Kingdom's reputation.
“He said that now the country is in peace, so if I put [up a banner] like this it affects national and international tourists,” she said.
Rozeth said she has also received other complaints from police about her restaurant causing excessive traffic, and has previously been informed that she needs to report all foreign patrons, but disregarded the orders because she felt they were meant to harass her.
Governor Sithy could not be reached for comment yesterday.