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Soldier movement ‘due to military parade in Battambang'

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Members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit march during anniversary celebrations in September 2016. Hong Menea

Soldier movement ‘due to military parade in Battambang'

A senior official from the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit (BGU) said the mobilisation of troops and equipment over the weekend was merely to attend a military parade in Battambang province.

He was responding to an analyst who expressed concerns that the move was to flex muscles before the July 29 national elections.

Brushing off such comments, BGU spokesman Ya Touch said it wouldn’t have issued an announcement if intimidation had been the motive.

The convoy left its headquarters in Kandal province’s Takhmao town on Saturday to attend the anniversary of the establishment of Region 5, one of the Kingdom’s military jurisdictions. It is the first time the unit has been mobilised since August last year when a brief border spat with Lao troops saw them deployed to Stung Treng province.

Before that, in September 2016, 35 trucks carrying armed BGU officers patrolled in front of the Cambodia National Rescue Party headquarters in the capital after the now-dissolved opposition party announced plans for a mass protest.

Touch said: “Mobilisation happened after there was an order from the commander-in-chief and with the permission of Samdech Techo [Hun Sen]. We need to leave before the exercise . . . if we wanted to intimidate people, we will

not inform them of our movement. Whatever we do, they [analysts] will not be happy and they keep criticising us.”

After the parade, the troops and weapons will move back to Takhmao town’s headquarters, he said, and urged the people living along National Road 5 not to be surprised at the sight of military personnel.

Earlier, analyst Meas Ny had said the mobilisation will concern people who fear a return of armed conflict before the election.

“The government must understand the people’s feelings and current political situation."

"The people might vote with fear because the election is approaching. There should not have been troop mobilisation before the election like this. Most of the people see it as muscle flexing to inform them that the government has enough troops and is strong,” he claimed.

Referencing the recent unveiling of a new $4 million facility at the BGU’s headquarters which, according to the Cambodian People’s Party website, was funded by unnamed donors as thanks for defending the country, Ny speculated that the prime minister was giving out rewards.

“We have our doubts because the leader said he has no wealth and just a small salary. But he has millions of dollars to help certain people, including [dishing out] projects nationwide that are gifts from the leader. So first, he said he has no money, but finally, he has millions of dollars to help.”

Cambodia Transparency International, Comfrel and Nicfec last week declared they would not observe the election process on July 29, alleging pressure from the Cambodian government.

Paul Chambers, a professor of Naresuan University in Thailand, commenting on the BGU’s movement, said: “As the general election approaches, the government is determined to have sufficient numbers of loyal security forces on hand to ensure domestic order when the vote tally is announced.

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