Opposition party president Sam Rainsy issued a call on Tuesday evening for the government to halt its post-election mobilisation of armed forces to avoid inciting “fear” in the population.
Rainsy, who has been in the United States for his daughter’s wedding and is due back today, posted the short message on his official Facebook page along with an iconic 1967 picture of a Vietnam War protester holding a flower towards the guns of US national guard soldiers.
“We call on the government to stop the military build-up and to stop moving the armed forces around so as to stop creating fear among the population,” Rainsy wrote.
“We appeal to policemen and soldiers to refrain from using violence against any citizens because we all are Khmers, peaceful Buddhists, and love our country.”
Ruling party lawmaker and spokesman Cheam Yeap responded in a tit-for-tat yesterday, saying troops would be withdrawn if Rainsy would only stop calling for mass demonstrations.
“We will withdraw the army when Sam Rainsy stops calling on people to protest en masse and when the situation is normal. We are just protecting security in the country,” he said.
The decision to pull troops out of Phnom Penh would be up to the prime minister or the interior minister, Yeap added.
“We will do whatever we need to against a mass demonstration that creates confusion and fear in Cambodian society. We cannot accept it,” he said.
Rainsy took a softer tone in his message compared to a post last week in which he urged supporters to persuade deployed troops to switch loyalties and join with the CNRP to bring a “change of leaders”.
Those comments landed him in hot water with the government, with Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith saying at the time that Rainsy’s words could be considered as an effort to incite military
rebellion, a move that could attract criminal charges.
Last week at a fiery rally at Freedom Park, Rainsy promised “mass demonstrations” if preliminary results were not revised to reflect a CNRP victory.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng sent a letter to Rainsy a week ago emphasising that leaders would be held personally liable for any adverse consequences resulting from a demonstration.
Since Rainsy’s initial promise of a protest, CNRP leaders have said a mass demonstration would be a “last resort if election irregularities are not properly investigated”.
On Monday, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, wrote to Rainsy and called on the CNRP to come to a “swift” agreement with other parties to investigate election irregularities, according to the letter disseminated yesterday.
“In the current situation, it is critical that all parties maintain a peaceful and democratic spirit conducive to strengthening the democratic process in Cambodia,” Ashton wrote.
Yesterday, more than 500 civil society and NGO representatives, students, laypeople and monks gathered outside Wat Phnom and the Royal Palace in a demonstration to pray for peace and non-violence.
Organisers say they will continue to meet weekly to call for a peaceful resolution to the political stalemate.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA