Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday threatened to “eliminate” his opponents should they press ahead with plans for mass demonstrations, and poured cold water on the opposition party’s expressed hopes for talks.
Despite numerous threats by the premier, other officials and military generals, the Cambodia National Rescue Party continues to plan nationwide demonstrations to protest against a wave of legal cases and arrests of its members and senior leadership. The cases are widely seen as politically motivated.
However, while speaking at a university graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh yesterday, Hun Sen brushed aside mounting international criticism of his government, and doubled down on his threats to use force.
“You threatened first,” he said. “If you are mad, don’t persuade others to join you; and when the problem occurs, don’t run so fast.”
“This is not just a threat – it is more serious than a threat because it is an order to eliminate those who destroy security and public order,” Hun Sen said, adding that he would consider himself a “dog” if he negotiated with his opponents.
And, he added, although problems could be resolved through the National Assembly, the CNRP, which has largely boycotted parliament, had forsaken its chance. “Now [we] do not negotiate,” he said.
Hun Sen also defended recent military “exercises” – including the deployment of troops, boats and helicopters – near CNRP headquarters, saying that the government could order such training manoeuvres at any time.
“What if a terrorist attack happens?” he asked. “Do not forget that terrorists can hit anyone. Therefore we want to know [about our] reaction forces. The prime minister can do this and the generals have to take orders.”
Following a joint statement last week by 39 countries, which expressed “deep concern” at Cambodia’s rising political tensions, the premier also lashed out at foreign nations, saying they had no right to criticise the Kingdom.
“In Cambodia, there is no political crisis, no internal crisis,” he said, again calling cases against opposition members “individual” not “political” matters, and claiming he could not “interfere”.
Over the past year, several CNRP members have been hit with 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; Kem Sokha has remained holed up inside CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh since late May.
Also yesterday, the municipal court in Phnom Penh granted several opposition lawmakers permission to visit Prey Sar prison to see their imprisoned colleagues – Senator Hong Sok Hour, parliamentarian Um Sam Ath and CNRP information officer Meach Sovannara.
Meanwhile, the committee set up by the party to organise demonstrations, which is led by senior lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang and which includes chief whip Son Chhay and lawmaker Mu Sochua, has yet to decide on a protest date, committee spokesman Thach Setha said yesterday.