A day after a top army general warned that his troops were ready to arrest the opposition’s leaders, military helicopters, navy vessels and troops were yesterday deployed for “exercises” in extreme proximity to the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s Phnom Penh headquarters.
As party activists watched on at about 5pm, four of the military’s Chinese-built Z-9 helicopters swooped repeatedly over the building on National Road 2 where CNRP acting leader Kem Sokha is hiding to avoid arrest – the choppers descending low enough for bsytanders to see the crews inside.
The display followed another pass earlier in the afternoon by the Z-9s, seven of which could be seen circling Phnom Penh from about 11am.
Meanwhile, behind the property, which abuts the Tonle Bassac River, the Post watched as two speedboats and a larger patrol vessel with a mounted machine gun ferried more than 20 soldiers in camouflage fatigues back and forth.
One of the speedboats, carrying about six troops, moored about 30 metres from the property, while the other two – which were earlier accompanied by a third speed boat, according to witnesses – lurked nearby.
“This is an action to frighten people,” said CNRP supporter Pen Chan, 43, as he watched on from the riverbank.
CNRP commune councillor for Chamkarmon district Kim Savuth, 42, also decried the “intimidation”, as he recalled convoys of troops passing the headquarters.
“At about 1:30pm, about 10 trucks with 10 soldiers each, armed and with full black masks, drove past slowly, then later about four came back past,” Savuth said.
“This must be a plan from the government leaders . . . They are trying to threaten or arrest my political leader; if not, why did they come here?”
At about 4pm, another convoy of armed and masked troops – bearing the insignias of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit – was spotted travelling towards the headquarters.
The display came a day after an interview with four-star General Kun Kim was released, in which the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces said the army would “guarantee to arrest” the opposition’s leaders if it received a court order.
Sokha will be tried – presumably in absentia – next week for refusing to submit to questioning over his alleged affair with a hairdresser. CNRP president Sam Rainsy fled the country last year to avoid arrest in a separate case. Both men face a slew of cases widely considered politically motivated.
However, reached yesterday, Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the manoeuvres were “not related” to the CNRP, whose spokesmen could not be reached yesterday.
“They can do their operation in air, water and ground; those locations do not belong to [the CNRP],” he said, denying it was a threat. “Only the people who have done something wrong feel intimidation.”
Hing Bun Heang, head of the premier’s Bodyguard Unit, said the “exercises” were simply part of ongoing preparations for the unit’s upcoming anniversary parade on Sunday.
He laughed when asked whether the deployment was linked to plans to arrest Sokha. “If they were arresting him, why would they need to use a helicopter?” he asked.
“Why do you ask such a crazy question?”