The family of YouTube coup plotter Som Sovannara fled to Bangkok in August and is seeking help from the U.N. to relocate to Canada, a relative said on Friday.
Mr. Sovannara, a 35-year-old former soldier in Cambodia’s military, posted a video on July 17 urging officials and soldiers to “liberate the nation from Hun Sen’s dictatorial regime.”
He later clarified his plea, saying the Khmer National Liberation Front, a group described by Mr. Hun Sen as a terrorist organization, sought a peaceful uprising. He was named this month as the minister of security and national defense for the front’s so-called government-in-exile.
Though Mr. Sovannara lives in Canada, where he has permanent residency, his sister, 47-year-old Som Somontha, said on Friday that authorities repeatedly harassed her family at their home in Preah Vihear province’s Sangkum Thmei district in the days after the video was posted.
“Police and soldiers came many times in July to threaten me,” she said. “They threatened that if they couldn’t find my brother, they would arrest me as a hostage to get my brother to return to Cambodia…. I decided to flee the country because police came to our house every day.”
Ms. Somontha could not identify which authorities had harassed her family, and district governor Ros Heng disputed that any such thing had happened.
He said the family would have recognized local authorities if any had been involved.
“If they were really threatened, they would have recognized the local police or authorities,” he said.
Si Kiry, Preah Vihear provincial police chief, said that “there were never any threats” to the family. “You have to think that people who do not commit crimes have no need to be scared or worried about anything.”
In a plan coordinated by Mr. Sovannara, Ms. Somontha said she paid smugglers to get her and her husband, along with her mother and three children, across the Thai border on August 8.
“We took a minibus from Preah Vihear to Poipet,” Ms. Somontha said. “Then we went across the small border crossing and took a minivan to Bangkok to meet with the U.N.”
“I was helped on my way to Thailand by several organizations such as the U.N. and few others,” she said. “There are six of us who requested asylum in Canada.”
Officials from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ Bang*kok office said that confidentiality rules forbid them from discussing individual cases.
Ms. Somontha said she had submitted asylum applications two months ago, but still felt unsafe in Bangkok, where the U.N. had coordinated shelter and aid for the family.
“I am more scared of getting killed than arrested, because even Kem Ley was shot,” she said, referring to the political analyst who was murdered at a Phnom Penh convenience store on July 10.
For his part, Mr. Sovannara, whom authorities said earlier this week they were adding to Interpol’s most wanted list, said on Friday that he had not been contacted by Cambodian or local authorities, but remained concerned for his family.
“Hun Sen’s authorities threatened…to kill and take them to the jail every day. I am very concerned and worried about the personal security of my family in Thailand,” he wrote in an email.
Ms. Somontha said it would have been better for her brother to keep his coup pronouncement to himself.
“I feel a bit sad, but he has worked to keep us safe, so I forgive him,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)
odom@cambodiadaily.com
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