Just hours after the opposition vowed to organise mass demonstrations, more than a dozen troop-laden trucks and security vehicles, some emblazoned with the insignia of the Prime Minister's Bodyguard Unit, descended on CNRP headquarters last night in an apparent show of force.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, besieged for months by questionable legal cases against its members, including its top leadership, announced it had “no choice” but to stage mass, nonviolent demonstrations.
That pledge was immediately attacked by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who yesterday evening told local media outlet Fresh News – often used to disseminate government missives – that he had instructed all state security forces that such protests “absolutely will not be allowed”.
In the hours that followed, according to opposition lawmaker Long Botta, police and military vehicles began swarming around party headquarters, where acting president Kem Sokha – convicted on Friday for failing to appear for court summonses in a case widely considered politically motivated – has been holed up for months to avoid arrest.
“At about six or seven in the evening, many police cars, they just passed in front of the headquarters many times; at midnight, trucks full of soldiers came, maybe 20, and stopped on the other side of the street, the street leading to Takhmao,” Botta said, describing a scene confirmed by other sources.
“Then they stayed there for a while, and after that they left, but they came back again and again until 1am – maybe later, around 1:30am.”
Since Sokha sought refuge in the headquarters following a May 26 arrest attempt, opposition supporters have congregated there in the hope that their presence would thwart any such future efforts.
“Our supporters who were there protected themselves by locking the gate,” Botta said. “There were roughly 100 supporters.”
“I guess this comes after Hun Sen on Fresh News warned he will use the [security] forces to disrupt the mass protests, but we cannot back off from our decision, but how we organise the protests is secret, we cannot reveal it,” he added.
The actions came just days after members of the state security forces buzzed the CNRP headquarters in helicopters and stationed watercraft mounted with machineguns in the river behind the building in an apparent effort to intimidate. Bodyguard Unit officials, however, maintained the “exercises” had simply been routine preparations for the unit’s anniversary celebrations.
Officials today took a similar tack, again maintaining that last night’s actions were simply “exercises”, but adding that from now on they would take place nightly, and were intended to ensure “security”.
Bodyguard Unit commander Hing Bun Heang maintained the government “has the right” to take such actions.
“If you [the CNRP] want to hold demonstrations against the government’s policy, then first you create insecurity; secondly, the rally causes disorder in public related to national social affairs,” he said. “These exercises are not a threat … and soldiers must exercise to keep security for the people and not threaten anybody.”
“Not only last night, but tonight, tomorrow night – and we’ll keep doing it,” he added. “If you’re concerned, it is your business.”
Ministry of Defence spokesman Chum Socheat, meanwhile, said the military stood ready to enforce the premier’s ban on demonstrations.
“And I appeal to our people to stay away from any rallies of the opposition party … and not be cheated by the incitement of some politicians who use the pretext of his personal issue as a political issue,” Socheat said. “The RCAF is ready to follow the order of samdech prime minister to oppose the illegal CNRP demonstrations and implement order, strictly and effectively.”