Prominent members of Cambodia’s military came out in force yesterday to condemn former opposition leader Sam Rainsy as a traitor, with the Ministry of Defence preparing to file a lawsuit against the dissident in exile.
Rainsy yesterday said his words from a 2011 speech – characterised on Wednesday by Prime Minister Hun Sen as a call for the army to turn their guns on the government – had “been distorted and taken out of their context”.
In a video clip of the speech posted on government mouthpiece Fresh News, Rainsy describes how the situation is ripe for “rebellion to break out”, adding that “most of the armed forces are from poor Cambodians and they received less salary and cannot live with that”.
“It is the appeal of the Sam Rainsy Party. I, Sam Rainsy, call for Cambodians, armed forces, to jointly overthrow Hun Sen from the traitor’s regime. We need to end it right now,” he says in the video.
Fresh News yesterday published more than a dozen posts condemning the speech from the army, navy, air force and various military units, who alleged Rainsy had incited a disruption to national security, and that he had “broken the national spirit”.
Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said the ministry’s legal group was planning to file a complaint against Rainsy, saying his comments six years ago were “an activity we cannot tolerate”.
“He incited the army to go against the government and leadership, and it is treason. We will examine it in the legal perspective and we will also punish him based on the law. The court will make the decision,” he said.
He added that there had been no orders for different military units to publicly condemn Rainsy and the criticism was pouring in unsolicited. When asked if the military should abstain from showing partisanship, he said the troops were “loyal” to Hun Sen.
“In short, the army regards Samdech Techo Hun Sen as the hero since June 20, 1977, once he struggled to liberate the country,” Socheat said, referring to when Hun Sen defected from the Khmer Rouge and sought Vietnamese government assistance to overthrow them.
Rainsy, meanwhile, wrote in an email yesterday that he had “just pointed at historical facts that implicitly – I didn’t make any specific call to anybody – could also materialize one day in Cambodia”. Those facts, he said, included the end of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“In both cases, the armed forces did not obey orders from their superiors to crack down on protesters but they decided instead to join with the people in the street who were peacefully calling for a political change,” he said.
He also suggested there was a “double standard”, as Hun Sen in 2005 “threatened to abolish the monarchy . . . if the King did not accept to promulgate the controversial Supplementary Border Treaty with Vietnam”.
Paul Chambers, lecturer at Naresuan University in Thailand, said via email that in Cambodia “there really is no institutionalized civilian control but instead personalized control”.
“This reality illustrates a deficiency in Cambodia’s democracy: the military is not loyal to the constitution but rather to the partisan whims of Hun Sen alone.”