THE Phnom Penh rumor mill shifted into a high gear during Prime Minister Hun Sen's
recent travel to Cuba, Canada and the US.
With the PM abroad, coffee shops, market stalls and street corners were buzzing with
subdued talk about imminent fighting and chaos.
Also, Cambodian newspapers - government as well as opposition friendly - ran a number
of articles alleging that the army was mobilizing in several provinces. Some reports
were quite specific and brought details all the way down to division and unit levels.
Whereas most seemed to expect that the believed tension would climax on Monday the
27th, there was some confusion as to what would actually happen. One speculation,
favored among others by the Voice of Khmer Youth, was that Minister of Interior and
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng was plotting to topple Hun Sen while the Prime Minister
was out of the country.
Others spoke of a clash with Thai army troops near the border. Or a heavy-handed
crackdown on the Khmer Serei, presumably holed up in the jungle in Kratie.
However, all was apparently quiet when the dreaded date came. And with the Prime
Minister safely back in his office, street talk soon turned to other less fearful
"This is not a new game in Cambodia," said one political analyst when asked
about the latest inventions of the ever-operational rumor factory.
"Every time the Prime Minister leaves the country, these rumors start floating
around. I believe it comes from people outside the CPP trying to spread the idea
of an internal split in the party.
"People in Cambodia are very receptive to rumors, so after a while they gain
their own dynamic," he said.
Dr Lao Mong Hay of the Khmer Institute of Democracy sees a different background for
the reappearing talk of imminent violence and bloodshed.
"Such rumors are created to show the importance of Hun Sen; as a way of saying
that the Prime Minister is the only one who can put down an attempted coup and therefore
we need him to keep order in the country," he said.
Whatever the reason, it seems the much-celebrated peace and stability haven't completely
eliminated the worried whispers of fighting and riots from the streets of Phnom Penh.