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US denies conspiracy to topple Cambodian government

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks to supporters last week in Stung Treng. He and his daughters have been the target of conspiracy theories alleging a US-backed conspiracy to topple the government. Facebook

US denies conspiracy to topple Cambodian government

The US Embassy yesterday hit back at unsubstantiated claims of a United States-backed conspiracy to topple the government disseminated by pro-government media outlet Fresh News, even as local news reported that the Interior Ministry would investigate the purported plot.

In its first public response since the bizarre conspiracy to foment “colour revolution” surfaced via an anonymous Facebook account on Thursday, the US Embassy strongly rejected the suggestion of involvement in regime change in Cambodia and accused the government of using the plot as a distraction from Cambodia’s worsening political situation as the government moves against NGOs and the independent media.

“As we have indicated before, any suggestion that the United States is supporting or has supported revolution is categorically false and is intended to draw attention away from the recent deterioration in Cambodia’s political climate,” embassy deputy spokesman David Josar said via email.

“Revolutions have occurred when ordinary people are denied the opportunity to participate in the political lives of their country. U.S. programs in Cambodia have helped the Cambodian government create just that opportunity.”

The conspiracy claims were first published in Facebook posts from an account named “Kon Khmer”, which translates to “Khmer Child”, before being republished by Fresh News and other local media outlets, many friendly to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Presenting no evidence, the posts allege several groups and individuals, including US freelance journalist Geoffrey Cain, former International Republican Institute Cambodia Director Jackson Cox and US Embassy official Sam Downing, conspired with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to create a colour revolution. The term refers to largely nonviolent movements that have ousted regimes in the former Soviet Bloc and parts of the Middle East.

The “Khmer Child” page continued its posts last night, publishing photos of what it claimed were CNRP activists being trained in “colour revolution strategies” last year in Indonesia by members of the Serbia-based Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, an NGO that promotes nonviolent protest movements. The post concludes with “wait and see how the authorities of Prime Minister Hun Sen will take action against these foreign NGOs”.

Citing Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, local newspaper Ramsei Kampuchea yesterday published a story online that the ministry had launched a probe into the claims. Though Sopheak could not be reached, Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith said the ministry would first “clarify the source” of the claims and then “seek the evidence” to see if any laws had been broken.

“First we need to find out whether the information is true or not,” said Sinarith, who has in the past accused NGOs of conspiring with the opposition to take down the government. “The authority needs to investigate whether the source of the information is reliable, and we must also find enough evidence. Secondly, we need to look into the law, whether it covers it or not.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Geoffrey Cain, who has been targeted by government-aligned news outlet Fresh News. Facebook

Geoffrey Cain, the freelance journalist named in the post, said he believed the target of the “fake news” operation was the opposition party, particularly its leader Kem Sokha, and his daughters, Kem Samathida and Kem Monovithya, the latter of whom was labelled a CIA agent in the posts.

“I think that we American citizens are just the cannon fodder in this campaign to go after the opposition,” Cain said by phone yesterday. “Mona and Thida, they are the two that are being targeted by this fake news operation. I would not feel safe if I was them; I think they should stay out of the country for now.”

Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy head of public affairs, was unreachable yesterday. CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann dismissed the claims, saying the party was focused on the upcoming national election.

“They do not need to create a lot of stories that bring a lot of concern to the country,” Sovann said. “We express our political stance again and again since 2013, we are politicians of integrity and do everything for the interests of the people.”

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