As the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit yesterday celebrated its 26th anniversary with a striking display of both military hardware and trained personnel, senior military officials present vowed to continue their support of Hun Sen “forever”.
Marking the anniversary at the unit’s headquarters in Takhmao, the speeches were preceded by a parade that included truck-mounted missile launchers, armoured tanks and specialised personnel units, including an anti-terrorism intervention squad, a SWAT team and the premier’s personal bodyguards.
Speaking at the event, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander-in-chief Pol Saroeun said protecting the prime minster was paramount to ensuring no one could “destroy the peace and happiness of Cambodia.”
The unit’s second responsibility, he added, was to quash any attempts at a “colour revolution”, a reference to non-violent uprisings in Middle Eastern and Soviet republics that have been a repeated and thinly disguised talking point aimed at the opposition.
“We must protect Samdech Techo Hun Sen and her Excellency [Bun Rany] . . . and absolutely not allow a colour revolution in Cambodia,” he said.
The unit’s deputy commander, Deang Sarun, went a step further, pledging support to Hun Sen beyond the National Assembly’s current mandate.
“We are strongly committed to support Samdech Techo Hun Sen as prime ministerial candidate of Cambodia for the [upcoming] sixth mandate and all mandates forever,” Sarun said.
Yesterday’s comments are the latest in a string of explicit statements of political support for the ruling party from senior RCAF officials. In May, a US State Department official had called for an end to the ongoing rhetoric, saying continued cooperation with the US military could be at risk.
Speaking after yesterday’s parade, Bodyguard Unit commander Hin Bun Heang dismissed suggestions that the prodigious amount of military hardware on display was meant as a show of force to potential internal enemies.
“We have to be equipped with what we need in order to be prepared,” he said. “So, it is impossible to be equipped with tanks and armoured vehicles but only show you bicycles.”
Concerns were raised last week, when helicopters, armed boats and military personnel were deployed close to the opposition’s headquarters – where acting CNRP president Kem Sokha is holed up – with government officials saying it was only in preparation for yesterday’s celebrations.
“Do not ask the reason why we have tanks and armoured vehicles here – we needed to do that because it is for the anniversary,” Bun Heang added.
However, Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said yesterday’s celebration was an overt attempt to “show off” the unit’s influence, employing the “same strategy” of suggesting that a change of regime was unthinkable.
“This show of strength is a way to intimidate the people,” he said. “If people start to think that it’s [change of government] not possible, they will then be scared.”