Cambodia’s military elite has again publicly thrown its support behind the government, while at the same time urging soldiers to repress any attempts by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to stage a “colour revolution”.
In a January 5 speech delivered to hundreds of soldiers at a military institute in Kampong Speu province, four-star General Neang Phat, who is also a secretary of state for the Ministry of Defence, praised at great length the leadership of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for their stewardship through three decades of economic development.
“[The CPP] built infrastructure, built bridges, roads, schools and canals for the Cambodian people,” he said in a 35-minute video, which began circulating in social media over the weekend.
Phat then rattled off multiple instances of what he characterised as CNRP agitation – including the 2013 post-election stand-off and subsequent protests, and ongoing nationalist rhetoric pertaining to the Vietnamese border – as examples of the opposition seeking to foment “instability in society”.
The general also took aim at opposition leader Sam Rainsy for attempting to undermine what he said was a long list of achievements under CPP rule.
“Cambodia has made progress in developing; he prevents this by asking Europe not to help Cambodia,” Phat said, referring to a resolution passed by the European Parliament in November, which suggested that aid could be slashed if an arrest warrant for Rainsy, who is currently in self-imposed exile overseas, was not dropped.
“We need to realise that they destroy our nation and are the ones who create the colour revolution – we must go against them,” he said, before urging the military to “eliminate” such a revolt.
Named for a series of popular movements in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, purported colour revolutions have been of particular concern to the government over the past year, with Prime Minister Hun Sen warning troops last July to be vigilant against such a movement, saying that the “armed forces must be loyal to the government”.
The premier’s comments were echoed a week later by Minister of Defence Tea Banh in an address to soldiers.
CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith, however, played down any notion of a brewing colour revolution yesterday.
“We support peaceful demonstrations; we want change through peaceful means,” he said.
The latest call by the military, he said, was one of many that demonstrated the body’s lack of neutrality. “[They] should [act] in the interest of the people, not the party.”
But CPP spokesman Sok Eysan insisted yesterday that Cambodia’s armed forces remained impartial in matters of party politics, though they do have an important role to play in defending the government of the day, he said.
“The army protects the government, which is born out of a legitimate election and that is normal, but the army is independent between parties,” he said.
However, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, was more scathing in his assessment of the latest comments from the military’s upper echelon.
“This is more evidence of the CPP’s ever-deepening control of the armed forces and police, and the use of those forces to suppress the political opposition using false accusations of plotting some sort of undefined insurrection,” he said.
In exchange for their support of the ruling party, the military were guaranteed impunity for rights abuses against enemies of the CPP, he said.
“The RCAF functions as the hired guns of the ruling CPP and have benefited from gaining shares of power and ill-gotten wealth from PM Hun Sen’s corrupt rule.”