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Government unit publishes 132-page treatise on threat of ‘colour revolution’

CNRP President Kem Sokha waves the Cambodian flag as he leads a party campaign rally last June. The government yesterday released a full-throated defence of its actions to imprison Sokha and disband his party last year.
CNRP President Kem Sokha waves the Cambodian flag as he leads a party campaign rally last June. The government yesterday released a full-throated defence of its actions to imprison Sokha and disband his party last year. Heng Chivoan

Government unit publishes 132-page treatise on threat of ‘colour revolution’

The Council of Ministers released a no-holds-barred book about its efforts to root out a purported foreign-backed “colour revolution” in Cambodia yesterday, lashing out at superpowers like the United States for supposedly trying to cause “immeasurable catastrophe” in the country.

The treatise, in 132 pages, lays out the argument for why the Cambodia National Rescue Party allegedly had to be forcibly dissolved just months ahead of national elections, rehashing and expanding many of the claims made in Cambodian People’s Party videos and speeches over the past two years.

According to CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, the council’s Press Quick Reaction Unit wrote the book “to tell the real Cambodian history”.

“It is a good example to other countries around the world which have suffered from superpowers that attempt to topple the legitimate government,” Eysan said.

Government-aligned media outlet Fresh News published the entirety of the book on its website yesterday and said 70,000 copies would be printed and disseminated.

The book paints a picture of Cambodia on the brink of war due to the actions of the CNRP and civil society organisations, which are said to be funded by “superpowers”.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has said repeatedly that the recently ended war could reoccur in Cambodia,” the book reads. “This is not a threat or a psychological method to win over the opponent. The opposition has said that they do not possess weapons, but their words, actions and potential violence are the triggers that can initiate war.”

Despite the fact that the book offers little proof of a Western-masterminded colour revolution, Eysan said the evidence was “undeniable”.

However, analysts characterised the work as a form of propaganda designed to persuade a sceptical public of the need to dissolve the popular CNRP, which won 44 percent of the vote in the last national elections and posed the only credible challenge to the CPP in this year’s upcoming ballot.

Political commentator Meas Nee said the government was using the colour revolution narrative to paper over growing discontent caused by its inability to cope with social issues such as forced evictions, land grabs and corruption.

“When the government does not know how to control them or resolve the social issues, they use colour revolution as a term or means to suppress the people,” Nee said, a point of view seemingly shared by Interior Minister Sar Kheng in 2016, when he said the government’s “inactive management” can give rise to popular dissatisfaction.

Nee also remained unconvinced that the book would have much impact.

“Not many Cambodians enjoy reading,” he said.

Interspersed with photos of riots around the world, the book claims that the Arab Spring uprisings and colour revolutions in Eastern Europe were “organised and financed by superpowers and their allies” – just like the opposition movement in Cambodia, it claims.

As evidence, it cites photographs of US Senator John McCain at a 2013 anti-government rally in Ukraine and comments from Sam Rainsy in 2011 about how Cambodia may see unrest similar to Egypt and Tunisia. “Colour revolution is a new political tool and strategy to invade without using armed forces under the pretext of democracy and human rights,” the book reads, adding it “is not the real will of the people”.

The book also criticises media outlets Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Voice of Democracy and Beehive Radio for exaggerating events “in order to poison the social environment”, and accuses civil society organisations like Licadho, Adhoc, the National Democracy Institute, Transparency International, Comfrel and Nicfec of being allies of the opposition.

The treatise goes on to question why Human Rights Watch has failed to call out the CNRP’s racist rhetoric against the Vietnamese, while also claiming that the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights offered refugee status to Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, and to Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress in an attempt to elicit false testimony from her.

UNOHCHR representative Simon Walker denied the claims yesterday, as did Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson, who said he has publicly decried racism against ethnic Vietnamese “any number of times”.

“Rather than blaming others, the CPP should look at itself,” Robertson said in an email. “CPP rule has meant seizure of land and displacement, plundering of national resources, corruption and poor government services, militarization, and scores of arrests and rights abuses – these are hardly a record that any principled organization can support.”

Licadho legal adviser Am Sam Ath and Transparency International Director Preap Kol also stressed that their organisations were nonpartisan in statements yesterday.

The book also criticises the US and EU for their reactions to the dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha. “Asia and some countries in Europe were neutral because these countries have learned about Cambodia’s situation clearly,” the book says.

In contrast, the US and EU’s reactions “are not in response to the real situation in Cambodia but to create support for the opposition party, which belongs to certain US politicians who have sustained their bias and attacked the government for years”.

The US Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment yesterday.

Striking a defiant tone against threats of sanctions, the document boasts that the CPP has “wide support” from the people. “They don’t support the destructive movement of the CNRP,” the book says, adding that the CPP plans to win the July election “in a landslide” – a result that is widely expected given the dissolution of the country’s only viable opposition.

The CNRP won 44 percent of the popular vote to the CPP’s 49 percent in 2013. The next-closest party also running in this year’s election, Funcinpec, won less than 4 percent.

Analyst Sebastian Strangio said the document was attempting to “enshrine” a narrative the ruling party has peddled throughout the last year – that the opposition and foreign powers were in cahoots to overthrow the government.

“For the CPP’s leaders (and indeed for their opponents), the civil war of the 1980s never really ended, and this is a document to their victory,” he said in an email. “It’s unclear how much effect this will have on public sentiment, but it could get wide circulation if it was (say) injected into the school curriculum.”

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Cheam Channy said yesterday that he was exasperated by the government’s focus on colour revolution.

The US and EU “are not taking sides with the CNRP, but taking sides with Cambodian people. We do not stay with the superpower countries; we are following the democratic path.”

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