Prime Minister Hun Sen said the allegations that the Cambodians who came to welcome him in Brussels, Belgium, were hired to do so were insulting and seriously disrespectful.

Hun Sen denied this on December 12 while meeting with 2,000 members of the Cambodian dispora in Europe who came to show support for him in the Belgian capital, where he is slated to co-chair the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit with European Council president Charles Michel on December 14.

“Perhaps using these kinds of words should end at some point because it is a serious insult to other people’s conscience and civil rights. These gatherings are not staged and it’s their right to decide if they want to come or not.

“I can’t imagine why anyone who lives in a democratic country would use these kinds of phrases, but it’s become their habit to do so. But it is not Hun Sen’s habit nor is it the Cambodian People’s Party’s [CPP],” he continued.

The premier said it was a regrettable embarrassment that critics and opposition politicians who had lived in Cambodia and moved abroad so often attacked anyone who joined the CPP by saying they were puppets of the Vietnamese.

“I don’t understand what these people are thinking or what they really want from us. Do you have to destroy the Hun clan to be happy? Remember – even if you were reborn 500 times, you could not accomplish this, that I can tell you,” he said.

In an apparent response to self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy who had announced plans to stage protests against his Europe trip, Hun Sen dared him to lead the protests in-person himself rather than hiding behind others.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the statements made by opposition politicians showed that they do not value national unity, peace or development in the Kingdom, which is in stark contrast to the Cambodian diaspora who welcomed Hun Sen in Europe, considering him to be a leader who has brought peace, development and a successful foreign policy to the country.

Siphan said that it was the negativity of the opposition and their abusive language that led to the loss of their personal dignity and that it was destructive of democracy and unity.

“Not only does attacking people personally undermine our democratic foundations, it also affects the right to freedom of expression and the right to choose who to support politically,” he said.

Siphan said he hopes that all parties involved in political issues would increase their understanding of the norms of democracy in order to respect and honour each other because treating each other in a civilised manner is important to building democracy. And in particular, he called for the use of appropriate language in politics that promotes national unity and reconciliation and avoids personal attacks and accusations.

Royal Academy of Cambodia secretary-general Yang Peou said the suggestion that more than 2,000 people were somehow pressured to welcome Hun Sen in Brussels was absurd because Europe has well-established freedoms and the choice of whether to attend an event like that or not is a basic political right there.

“These suggestions about hidden pressures by some foreign analysts or politicians reflect long-standing political attitudes that place the burden on the CPP so that whatever the CPP does, they will claim it is somehow oppressive,” he said.

The political scientist said that to avoid the use of insulting language, politicians should stick to presenting their policies and programmes that can help society to the public rather than attacking each other with insults because that just makes Cambodia look uncivilised in its attitudes to international observers.