Prime Minister Hun Sen delivered a fiery speech yesterday, threatening to “attack” members of the opposition with Soviet-era rocket launchers, while also claiming he would arrest them anywhere in Asia.

“Please, don’t have hope. I just want to tell you, don’t force someone to put nails in your coffin. If it’s in the court’s hands, it’s another issue, but if it is a secession issue, the BM-21 can be used to attack your area,” the premier told a group of students at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, referring to a Russian-made truck-mounted rocket battery.

The country’s only viable opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved in the run-up to this year’s highly anticipated national elections. The move was condemned by the international community as transforming Cambodia into a one-party dictatorship, with former opposition leader Sam Rainsy launching a new “movement” in response this week.

Rainsy has pledged to use the new Cambodia National Rescue Movement to call for strictly nonviolent protests. Government officials, however, have claimed – without evidence – that the movement is a terrorist organisation.

“Please come in any movement. If you come by yourself, it’s for the best,” Hun Sen continued yesterday.

While the premier claimed he didn’t “directly control the military”, he went on to say he can “order all the armed forces as vice president within the framework of the Supreme Council of National Defence”.

“You must understand, this commander is not a soft commander,” he added.

Hun Sen did not name any individuals, although he made oblique references to Rainsy, calling the person in question a “dog”, and the son of another “dog”. The premier has frequently ridiculed Rainsy for being the son of a “traitor” due to his father’s alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow King Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s.

Sam Rainsy speaks to supporters at the official launch of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement in Long Beach, California. Facebook

Rainsy has lived abroad since 2015 to avoid a slew of politically tinged court convictions, and many opposition figures joined him in 2017 after the arrest of then-CNRP President Kem Sokha.

The prime minister went on to claim that because the opposition has become a “terrorist organisation”, he had the authority to “cooperate” on an international scale to arrest members anywhere in Asia.

“Those who fled the country . . . be informed, don’t come to Asia. Don’t come near Asia,” Hun Sen warned.

Despite Hun Sen’s assertion, many opposition members and civil society figures have fled Cambodia for Thailand with no reported trouble, and there’s been no indication that other Asean nations consider the opposition to be international criminals. The Japanese Embassy declined to comment on the matter yesterday, while numerous other embassies did not respond to inquiries.

Rainsy had little to say in response to the threats yesterday, merely returning the accusation of terrorism and pointing out Hun Sen’s controversial past. “Hun Sen, as a former Khmer Rouge commander, has definitely a terrorist mentality and a killing expertise,” he said via email.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, Rainsy accused Hun Sen of committing “crimes against humanity” for various violent crackdowns, coups and alleged assassinations through the years.

“When he loses power, our country will have democracy. We will create an independent court to bring Hun Sen to trial,” he told RFA.

Mu Sochua, former deputy president of the CNRP and a signing member of the new movement, said Hun Sen is a “man full of violence and hatred”, and that the UN Security Council and international community at large should be alarmed by his increasingly aggressive rhetoric.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Hun Sen’s comments show he has “lost the plot”.

“He’s fooling himself if he thinks any country in the region is going to agree to his pursuit of Rainsy and the dissidents on their soil,” he said via email.

Robertson also said the opposition has been “consistently peaceful”, and called Hun Sen’s allegations of terrorism “wild claims” and “falsehoods”.