Prime Minister Hun Sen once again denied any involvement in recent events at a plantation owned by League for Democracy Party (LDP) president Khem Veasna, whose doomsday predictions incited over 20,000 of his followers to gather illegally at his plantation in Siem Reap province to escape the purported apocalypse.
Hun Sen urged Veasna – who pronounced himself a “Universe Protecting Brahma" – to explain the situation to clear up confusion among the public.
The premier made the call while meeting with families who have volunteered to relocate from the protected Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap town to the Run Ta Ek development area in Banteay Srei district.
"People said I was the one who ordered Khem Veasna to do this. So I call on Khem Veasna and his supporters to respond and speak the truth because [people] are accusing me of creating scenes to divert public attention from this or that.
"So, will you [Veasna] deny these allegations or wish to accept as true the accusations that you and your supporters are all my puppets?” Hun Sen asked rhetorically.
The premier further pointed out that he did not use force to suppress the gathering because he considered those in attendance to be innocent people who were deceived by superstitions.
Had the government used force to crack down on them, he said it would have resulted in deaths and injuries.
"I do not use force to suppress the people just because they believe in erroneous superstitions. How many people would have been injured or killed had we done that? They [followers] were all crowded onto [several] hectares of land, so it would not be difficult for our armed forces to disperse them at gunpoint.
"But this was not Hun Sen's choice. Hun Sen only chooses to use armed force against whoever wants to overthrow [the government]. They must suffer the fury of our armed forces if they attempt to have me deposed. As an [elected] prime minister, I would not stand idle letting anyone overthrow me [by illegal means]," he warned.
Hun Sen also called on all of the people who believed in superstitious propaganda – to the point that they broke up with their families – to try to understand each other and reconcile.
Niether Veasna nor LDP representative Ny Chan Pinith could be reached for comment on September 13.
Separately, Hun Sen also warned that any attempt to disband the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit would be considered an attempted coup d'etat and the government would respond in kind.
"Whoever opposes the bodyguards of the prime minister is trying to overthrow the government because the only duty of the bodyguards is to protect the prime minister. If they can't fulfil their duty, the country will be in chaos immediately. Whoever is trying to disband the bodyguards who protect me must be the one who is planning to attempt to overthrow me and to kill me,” he said.
The seriousness of the warning was underlined by the premier's recounting of claims that there had been attempts on his life several times previously.
"There were too many assassination attempts ... At one point, I was overthrown and put under house arrest. Later on, there were attempts to overthrow me three more times. And later on September 24, 1998, there was an attempt to assassinate me in Siem Reap province. Since then, I’ve vowed that as long as Hun Sen is in office, absolutely no one will be allowed to overthrow [the government].
"The armed forces have an obligation to protect the nation, people and the country’s leadership including, of course, the prime minister. Only the prime minister, and no one else, has absolute power over the armed forces,” he stressed.
LDP president Veasna made headlines recently when he stirred up controversy by calling on his followers to gather at his sprawling plantation in Tbeng commune’s Sor Ser village of Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district, near the foot of Kulen Mountain. He reportedly told them that only by following him – as the “Universe Protecting Brahma – could they escape “global tsunamis” that he said were about to occur.
Nearly 20,000 people – both locals and Cambodians working abroad in countries like South Korea, Thailand and Japan – heeded the call and gathered there hoping to survive the predicted catastrophic events before disbanding on the authorities’ September 5 ultimatum.