A former journalist who worked with Radio Free Asia has backed up Prime Minister Hun Sen’s claim that Chun Chanboth feared being killed by US agents.
Sok Ratha, a former reporter under the name Ratha Visal, said yesterday that US agents wanted to kill Mr Chanboth, deputy-director of RFA’s US-based Khmer service.
Mr Ratha’s comments came after Mr Hun Sen spoke in Sydney, where he said Mr Chanboth was his own spy working for the government and had asked military officers to protect him from being assassinated.
The premier said Mr Chanboth had asked for protection from Lieutenant General Hun Manet, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and Brigade 70 commander Mao Sophann, because he feared US agents would kill him.
The popular RFA commentator, who is also known as Huot Vuthy, allegedly failed to disclose his profession when he signed into Prey Sar prison to visit detainees with a delegation of opposition CNRP officials in April 2017. He fled the country shortly after to escape a court appearance.
Mr Ratha said that Mr Chanboth phoned him from the US and asked him to find bodyguards to protect him a month before he was to visit Cambodia in March 2017.
“He called me again and said he would arrive in Phnom Penh on March 22 at 11pm and needed bodyguards to provide security because he was worried about his safety, especially a loss of his life,” Mr Ratha said.
He said Mr Chanboth wrote a letter while on the plane explaining what to do if he was gunned down.
When asked if the CIA was involved, Mr Ratha said: “We can say it was America’s forces.”
Mr Ratha said Mr Chanboth had told him he did not want to work for RFA as a political tool but it was hard for him to leave.
David Josar, deputy spokesman for the US embassy in Phnom Penh, said via email that freedom of expression in the US flourished.
“The idea that Chun Chanboth or any journalist working in America has anything to fear from the US government is ridiculous,” he said.
“As the people of Cambodia are well aware, the United States has been among the most consistent supporters of free speech and political rights in Cambodia and elsewhere.”
Mr Ratha said that Mr Chanboth was forced to thumbprint a document by an RCAF commander who prevented him from filing a complaint in case he was shot dead in Cambodia.
“He was afraid of a ‘third hand’ as in the case of Kem Ley,” Mr Ratha said, referring to the late political activist who was shot dead at a gas station in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016.
Mr Ratha said he had contacted Lieutenant General Sophann, the commander of Brigade 70, asking him to send bodyguards as requested by Mr Chanboth.
Mr Ratha said he brought three bodyguards from Brigade 70 to pick up Mr Chanboth in his own car at 11:30pm upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport.
However, when he arrived Mr Ratha said that Mr Chanboth asked him and the three bodyguards not to come close because US agents were waiting to pick him up.
“When I saw him arrive, I shook hands with him and we walked toward the car. Then a Lexus SUV that was driving very fast pulled over and I saw two US agents and one Cambodian escort him into the SUV,” he said.
Mr Ratha drove his car behind them until they arrived at the hotel where Mr Chanboth was supposed to stay.
Mr Hun Sen said that Mr Chanboth had met with Lt Gen Manet and had asked him to protect him from being killed by US agents.
“Do you know what Chun Chanboth said? He asked Lieutenant General Mao Sophan to protect him because he feared being killed by US agents – like Kem Ley was,” he said
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling CPP, said that RFA was a US mouthpiece that intended to overthrow the Cambodian government.
“RFA is very biased to the opposition party and a puppet of a powerful country,” he said.
Mr Chanboth did not respond to an email for comment.