The Khmer People Power Movement, a US-based opposition group, fired back yesterday against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s accusation that it is a terrorist movement, while observers warned the premier’s attendant threat of arrests bode poorly for the freedom of upcoming elections.
Last week, the premier accused the KPPM of training an armed insurrectionist force in Thailand, and of being interlinked with other terrorist groups hiding amongst the opposition – a guise he said would not spare them from arrest
The KPPM said Hun Sen’s speech amounted to little more than intimidation and reiterated its commitment to non-violence in a statement yesterday.
“The KPPM has only international law as its arms to put an end the criminal regime ruled by Hun Sen,” the statement read.
Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said Hun Sen’s speech “creates an environment of fear among the opposition”.
“This election is a less free election if this kind of fear happens to the opposition this election time,” he noted, adding that the CPP was less violent than in years past, but it would be to little effect “if they’re less violent and they are still creating an environment of fear”.
Were the premier to follow through on opposition arrests, it would “be a very big concern” to the international community, and that “the legitimacy of the elections will contribute to the legitimacy of the government”, he said.
However, the number of registered election monitors has declined this year from past elections. US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh – who did not comment on Hun Sen’s request that the CIA investigate the so-called terrorist groups based in the US – said embassy representatives would observe polling stations, but no monitors would be sent from the US.
Similarly, EU Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain said that Europe, which sent 124 observers in 2008, would not be sending any this year thanks to “budget constraints”.
“Since 1993, the regular [European election observers] sent to Cambodia have made a number of recommendations. Yet, some of them remain to be taken on board by relevant authorities,” Cautain noted.
That very failure to take advice was to blame for the diminished monitors, said Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak, who also suggested a cause for Hun Sen’s heightened rhetoric.
“Hun Sen is sending a message that any call for regime change will be met with harshly, and referring to regime change has been on his mind since the Arab Spring,” he said.