Prime Minister Hun Sen told journalists in Tokyo on Wednesday that he was “waiting for the war” called for by those who had appealed to the people and the army “to rise up” and arrest him.
However, he said no further steps would be taken if the “warmonger” concerned announced his defeat.
The prime minister also seemingly suggested that legal proceedings against Kem Sokha would continue.
Meanwhile, a political analyst has said Hun Sen should use his “win-win politics” for the sake of the nation.
Hun Sen is in Japan attending the 25th International Conference on The Future of Asia, which runs from Wednesday to Friday in Tokyo.
In an interview after making a speech on Thursday, Hun Sen replied to a question asked in Japanese, answering that it was unfair to refer to any legal measure carried out in Cambodia as “politically motivated”.
He said legal proceedings had merely been carried out against those who had acted against national interests, caused death and destroyed property in late 2013.
Hun Sen said it was the simple matter of an independent country implementing its laws.
“I announce today that legal procedures will continue against the person who was charged,” the prime minister said in an apparent reference to Sokha, the president of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who is charged with treason.
“Also, I am waiting for war – and let them go to war by gathering Cambodians in Japan, Korea, Thailand and at home to go to war and arrest me as they announced,” he said, apparently referring to CNRP “acting president” Sam Rainsy.
Rainsy told thousands of CNRP supporters gathered in the South Korean city of Gwangju in April that he was determined to return to the Kingdom and invited all Cambodians living in South Korea to join him.
He said he and the Cambodian people would arrest Hun Sen and let the people judge him.
Sokha has been charged with treason since 2017. He was released on bail last September, while Rainsy has been living in France to avoid a slew of legal convictions against him.
“I won’t do anything else besides continuing the legal procedures, and I let a dog barking from abroad appeal to the army and fellow Cambodians to rise up and arrest Hun Sen and bring me to a trial,” Hun Sen said.
“I let them do that. As long as the warmonger announces his defeat, I won’t do anything further,” he said, adding that he continued to focus on improving the country’s economy.
Banned politicians must make requests for political rehabilitation if they wanted to take part in the 2022 commune and 2023 national elections, he said.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker who was recently rehabilitated, said Hun Sen and Rainsy should soften their positions towards each other to find a solution for the sake of the Kingdom.
Rainsy calling for the arrest of Hun Sen was merely rhetoric, and the CNRP co-founder was incapable of waging a war, he said. Therefore, Hun Sen did not need to wait for one.
Chanrath said Sokha should have his treason charge dropped like the six union leaders had had their sentences in relation to protests that turned violent in late 2013 overturned by the Appeal Court on Tuesday.
“If Rainsy softened his stance, I believe that Prime Minister Hun Sen would do so too to resolve their dispute. Looking at their strategies, we can understand their leadership.
“So if they understand each other’s characters, I believe it might pave the way for a solution. If the conflict between them is personal, it will be hard to resolve,” Chanrath said.
Preap Kol, the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said Cambodians did not want to see political conflicts harm national interests. All wars of words should end, he said.
“Cambodia needs a new political culture that enables professional political practices, without fear, putting national development over vindictiveness and personal hostility,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Hun Sen’s remarks were another counterattack to Rainsy’s renewed assault on him and his government with the announcement of his imminent return to Cambodia – and it was meant to keep him out of the country.
He said both political leaders were now engaging deeper in a game of high-stakes brinkmanship that could well lead to violent conflict.
He said the King, with China’s now seemingly stronger support, could and should fulfil his constitutional role as national arbiter and call on them both to talk and settle their dispute.
“He has done it before, and our King Father [Norodom Sihanouk] did it before him,” he said.
“As for our prime minister, it is now yet another opportunity for him to prove his sincerity and consistency, and apply his win-win politics that ended his conflict with the Khmer Rouge to resolve his dispute with Sam Rainsy."
“After all, his present rival’s alleged crimes pale into insignificance in comparison with the Khmer Rouge’s well-known and well-proven crimes,” he said.