PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s prime minister on Wednesday condemned a violent assault on two opposition parliamentarians as “cheap” and unforgivable and took aim at political rivals for stirring tensions with street protests that hurt the country’s image.
In a rare televised address, Hun Sen called for calm and said those who dragged the lawmakers out of their cars and kicked them on the ground following a rally on Monday would be brought to justice.
“We can’t tolerate and forgive those who committed this,” he said.
“Regardless of who they are - whether they are supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the royal government, the opposition party - whoever committed this cheap act must be punished.”
The two Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers were attacked after a demonstration by supporters of the ruling CPP outside the national assembly.
The address follows the collapse in July of a fragile truce between the two main parties, in which the CPP agreed to a series of concessions in return for the CNRP ending its year-long parliamentary boycott.
Hun Sen has been central to a war of words with CNRP and criticized the party for staging protests during his recent visits to Paris and the United Nations in New York, which he said lacked “honor and dignity”.
CNRP’s rallies, he said, may have influenced the demonstration at parliament by his own supporters, noting that they had dispersed long before the lawmakers were beaten.
“They (the attackers) were not the crowd of protesters, where are they from?” he said.
“Whatever. I order today, no matter wherever they are from, they must be arrested and prosecuted.”
CNRP accuses Hun Sen of ceding sovereign territory to historic foe Vietnam, the latest attempt to portray him as a stooge of Hanoi, which riles him.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for three decades and has recently engaged in some saber-rattling of his own, warning a CNRP victory in a 2018 election would see a return to civil war.
Hun Sen’s address on Wednesday was uncharacteristically short at 11 minutes. His speeches are unpredictable and can go on for longer than five hours.
He has typically used events like university graduation ceremonies and the launching of infrastructure projects to talk politics and lambaste his critics, including the United Nations.
Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Louise Ireland