Another convoy of military vehicles has been filmed on Cambodia’s roads but, despite the heightened political tension, a Defence Ministry spokesman characterised it as regular troop rotation.
Uploaded yesterday morning to social media, the video appeared to show at least 20 troop-carrying trucks headed north, away from Phnom Penh, on National Road 6 in Kampong Cham province.
It follows the circulation of several videos, beginning early last week, of military vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers and tanks being transported to the capital.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat confirmed on Monday that “all tanks” from the border in Preah Vihear province had been recalled to bases around Phnom Penh for repairs. Socheat also confirmed the troops stationed at the border province, including members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, had been recalled, but denied the movements were connected to recent domestic political developments, saying they were a response to improved relations with Thailand.
Reached yesterday, Socheat said the newest convoy was a part of a troop rotation, which he said usually occurred once every three months, though sometimes longer if frontline troops’ health permitted.
It was not related to “security issues”, he reiterated.
“We’re moving the back force to the front while moving the front forces back, because our forces that were long stationed [on the border] had become weak,” Socheat said, adding the men would receive training at their headquarters.
“This is normal; every country is like this.”
However, a diplomatic source, regularly briefed on military affairs, yesterday said the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces rarely rotated troops.
“They do not conduct regular troop rotations,” the source said, adding that a bolstered military presence could be either to control potential demonstrations or dissuade them from occurring at all.
As the political situation has deteriorated over the past year, several high-ranking generals, including Defence Minister Tea Banh, have given speeches characterising the opposition as a threat to stability.
Its leaders besieged by legal cases widely considered politically motivated, the Cambodia National Rescue Party has threatened mass demonstrations if authorities detain their acting president Kem Sokha, who has been holed up in the party’s headquarters since late May.
CNRP spokesman Eng Chhay Eang said the party did not believe the Defence Ministry’s explanation about the recent boost in military presence around Cambodia, though added he would “wait and see” if the equipment and personnel were used correctly. “We’re supportive if the forces are used to defend territory and the people’s harmony; but if it’s used to intimidate and threaten, we do not support.”