PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Three men charged with brutally beating two Cambodian opposition MPs last week are members of the country's military, police said on Thursday (Nov 5) following the assault that has reignited political tensions in the kingdom.
Opposition lawmakers Kong Sakphea and Nhoy Chamreoun were dragged from their cars and savagely beaten after they left a session at parliament where a pro-government rally was being staged.
"They said they are military, but I don't know which units they are from," Sok Khemarin, director of the penal police department and a member of a government committee set up to probe the violence, told AFP.
In a statement, the Ministry of Interior said the trio handed themselves in on Tuesday and had confessed to the assaults.
The attack took place last Monday at a demonstration by thousands of backers of strongman premier Hun Sen's party who were calling for a key opposition figure to step down as vice chief of parliament.
Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was ousted four days later following a vote by ruling party MPs, in a move that has outraged the opposition.
Hun Sen has been in power for more than three decades and is frequently accused by rights groups of stifling the opposition.
Rights groups and CNRP have condemned the violence and demanded an independent investigation into the assault.
The three attackers - named by police as Chay Sarith, 33, Mao Hoeun, 34, and Suth Vanny, 45 - were charged on two counts, intentionally committing an act of violence and intentional damage of property.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Hun Sen Thursday said the assault was not carried out by his party supporters, who he said had dispersed before the violence took place.
He said the beaten MPs had insulted the suspects by saying they were affiliated with rival Vietnam, called Yuon in Cambodia.
"The confessed men said they (the opposition MPs) cursed them as Yuon puppets... so they were angry and beat them up," he said during a government ceremony as he called on supporters to refrain from any violent acts.
Cambodia and Vietnam have long sparred over a border dispute that has recently flared, and the opposition in Phnom Penh routinely accuses Hun Sen's government of being too cosy with Hanoi.
Sour relations between Cambodia's ruling and opposition parties reached a nadir after controversial 2013 elections which saw the CNRP abandon the legislature for a year, accusing the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of stealing victory through vote-rigging.
Hun Sen, 63, has signalled he has no intention of ending his dominance of Cambodian politics - previously vowing to stay in power until he is 74.