Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed on Friday that Radio Free Asia presenter Chun Chanboth had expressed concern the United States would kill him if he left the State Department-funded broadcaster, a claim quickly dismissed as “silly” by US Ambassador William Heidt.
The premier was in Australia attending an Asean summit, when he made the purported revelations during a meeting with Cambodian-Australians.
Hun Sen claimed Chanboth was a spy for him and that the radio presenter had approached his son, Hun Manet, and military Lieutenant General Mao Sophan for protection from the US, whom he allegedly claimed would kill him if he left RFA. At the same meeting, the premier claimed the United States was responsible for the killing of political commentator Kem Ley – a case many have classified as politically motivated murder.
“Are you insulting me strongly to please America, but you say you need help to protect you in case America kills you like Kem Ley? I helped hide it for you, but now I won’t hide it for you,” the premier said on Friday, referring Chanboth.
Chanboth was forced to flee Cambodia last year after the government issued a warrant for his arrest accusing him of misrepresenting himself in order to gain access to political prisoners at Prey Sar prison. He is now in Washington, DC.
Ambassador Heidt, speaking at an event in Kampong Thom, said US-based journalists enjoyed the freedom to report on stories, and dismissed the idea Chanboth was at threat.
“So this idea that Chun Chanboth is afraid of being in America is frankly, it is just silly. It’s just silly,” he said.
The story was picked up by government mouthpiece Fresh News, which seems to have added the Central Intelligence Agency as the one threatening Chanboth.
Fresh News also appended the screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation, which it claimed was between Chanboth and Manet, with the former attempting to seek a meeting with the premier in Australia last week. It followed with an interview with the RCAF’s Sophan who claimed Chanboth had requested security during a visit to the Kingdom last March, with the lieutenant general providing three bodyguards.
While Chanboth did not respond to a request for comment, he spoke during one of the protests against Hun Sen in Australia, inviting the premier to reveal any secret information Chanboth had purportedly relayed to the prime minister.
“I am also anxious to know why and what documents and information I sent to PM Hun Sen,” he said, referring to the spy allegations.