Just days after promising to “eliminate” his opponents if they take to the streets to protest, Prime Minister Hun Sen used remarks at a graduation ceremony to call on opposition leaders to maintain a “ceasefire” throughout the Pchum Ben holiday, saying he wanted the situation “to be calm”.
“Today is calm, and I am not going to speak about politics,” Hun Sen said. “I haven’t spoken about politics since [Wednesday], and now I’m waiting to see who is going to shoot first.”
“I do not want to have this back-and-forth arguing,” he added.
Opposition leaders responded positively, if cautiously, to the comments, saying it is time to move beyond a “ceasefire” and put an end to the out-and-out war between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“We need to get off the battlefield, because in this war, no one can win,” said CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann. “So we congratulate the prime minister on his speech, and now we should hold a roundtable and talk about how to end the war.”
But another opposition lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous, cast doubt on whether the ceasefire would last.
“We are still doubtful about long-term intentions; for the opposition now, it’s not easy,” the lawmaker said. “There’s the old saying, ‘the calm before the storm’ . . . Right now, we are in a situation where we have been suppressed to shut our mouths, to de-activate our activities. That doesn’t mean that our heart is at peace.”
Nevertheless, the lawmaker conceded that talking about peace is “a good start”.
In spite of the premier’s purported ceasefire, however, just hours after his remarks, Ly Sophana, deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, announced that the court was moving forward with a complaint brought by the prime minister against opposition Senator Thak Lany.
Lany is being charged with public defamation and incitement for giving a speech in Ratanakkiri province in which she allegedly suggested Hun Sen was responsible for the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley. Lany and her attorneys have insisted that the audio of the remarks was doctored, and that they have evidence that exonerates the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian.
Over the past year, several CNRP members have been hit with questionable lawsuits, and party president Sam Rainsy and deputy president Kem Sokha have both been dealt prison time in cases widely considered political. Rainsy fled into self-imposed exile in France last year, while Sokha has remained holed up inside CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh since late May.
Responding to news about the charges against Lany, the CNRP’s Sovann maintained that all of the cases against CNRP members are “politically motivated”. Still, sometimes they need to go to court in order to be closed, he added.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces yet again signalled its readiness to support the prime minister in any event. “The role of the army is to protect the government and territorial integrity, and keep the peace for the people,” Kun Kim, a deputy commander-in-chief of RCAF, posted on his Facebook page.
“Therefore, we need to act together to crack down on any people who destroy social peace.”
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton