Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said if an armed group were to rise up as announced by Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), they would be destroyed immediately.
Hun Sen said Rainsy’s announcement of having a budget in place for members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) who defected from the prime minister gave him the right to deploy the army to quash “an armed rebellion”.
“If you have armed forces then I must fight you. I must fight you anywhere I see you, without needing a warrant. You have encouraged using the armed forces, including appealing to the army to start action.
“In a normal situation, the army would not come out, only the national and Military Police. But when you announce having armed forces like this, it means we have to start deploying the army. This would not be a normal protest but an armed rebellion,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen was speaking at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Monday where he received 443 high school students who achieved straight As in the recent Grade 12 examinations.
Referring to Rainsy, the prime minister said the leader of a rebel group had vowed to come to Cambodia on November 9 and arrest him.
He said it was Rainsy’s claim of having a budget for the military that gave the prime minister the right to launch a crackdown.
“We don’t need to talk anymore about the leader of a rebel group. It would come under the duties of [defence minister] Tea Banh because these people would have crossed a red line.
“Insulting the King is not a normal act. [Rainsy] used ‘it’ to refer to the King and called him the ‘King of theatre’, and told him to abdicate. You are too rude! His goal is not only to depose Hun Sen but to take out the King as well,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen said Rainsy had claimed to have the support of more than 65 per cent of the armed forces. If this were true, he said, then Rainsy should return quickly, even before November 9.
He said anyone showing support for Rainsy would be arrested immediately and face long jail terms.
“The government would not have violated their rights because they would have crossed a red line,” the prime minister said.
He said if Rainsy brought two million supporters from South Korea and Thailand with him, the sky would turn dark with up to 500 aeroplanes.
He stressed that actions intended at overthrowing the government would not be tolerated and that Rainsy’s supporters who were hiding in Thailand faced deportation.
“If you post on Facebook expressing your participation in that campaign, you are included too.
“It is not using the right to freedom of expression, but participation in plotting to topple the government using armed force. We will not allow you to do this. We work hard [for the nation],” Hun Sen said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he was of the view that the prime minister resorting to threats of violence was an indication of the ineffectiveness of current legal action to prevent people welcoming Rainsy if and when he returned.
Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the army had the right to use weapons to protect the Constitution and the government, which was born out of elections that had more than 83 per cent turnout.
“The government has said that if someone were to rise up, he would be arrested. This is better than keeping the situation suppressed until it becomes like a broken dam. When a dam is broken and we try to fix it, it is more dangerous.
“So action must be taken – when a group takes action against the law and the Constitution, it must be destroyed. Destroying one or two is better than when the dam is broken, which could lead to far-reaching bloodshed,’ Touch said.
Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said even if Rainsy were to return without weapons, his actions already amounted to plotting a coup as he had announced funding soldiers who defected.
Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said activities affecting security or aimed at toppling the government were “serious crimes”, and the authorities would use all means to crack down on them.
Meanwhile, seven more people were charged on Monday with “plotting”, five of them by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and two others by the Oddar Meanchey Provincial Court.
A press release from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said Kruy Sokhemrith, Seng Khon, Tit Sophat, Voeung Samnang and Khen Sokheang had been charged.
They were allegedly rallying people to join the plan to topple the government under the pretext of Rainsy’s return, it said.
Oddar Meanchey Provincial Court charged Mak Vannvuthy and Oun Srun for appealing to Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand to return to Phnom Penh and participate in Rainsy’s return.
Malin said the Ministry of Justice had yet to determine how many people had so far been arrested and charged with plotting.