The Ministry of Defence on Friday lashed out at civil society and election monitoring groups, claiming a recent statement urging the armed forces to maintain their neutrality during the election process had tarnished the military and “could not be accepted”.
With the commune vote just over a week away, the statement follows weeks of bellicose rhetoric from top leaders of the security forces, including a recent threat from Defence Minister Tea Banh to beat opposition protesters “until their teeth come out” should they contest the results of the June 4 poll.
“The Ministry of Defence spokesman would like to deny and condemn the statement from Comfrel, associations and civil society in Cambodia about the election situation,” read the statement, posted on the ministry’s website this morning.
“[The statement] has the intention to incite and to tarnish the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. It is insulting and looks down on the honour, role and duty of the [military].”
The Defence Ministry was responding to a joint statement (khmer) released on Thursday by 18 civil society groups in Cambodia, including Comfrel, Nicfec, Adhoc, the Cambodian Volunteers for Society, Central and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.
The groups were voicing their support for a statement released by the National Election Committee on Wednesday, which urged soldiers and members of the police to remain neutral, and warned security forces against intimidating voters.
The civil society groups also expressed concern about recent comments by military top brass warning about crackdowns against election-related protests.
In its response, the Defence Ministry stated that RCAF “knew clearly” about the election law – which also stipulates military neutrality – and its role and duties surrounding the ballot.
“There is no need to have Comfrel, associations and civil society in Cambodia make an instruction,” it read.
“The statement instructing the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is a serious violation to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and this cannot be accepted.”
“The Defence Ministry would like to inform the local and international [community] that the actions and remarks of the senior of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces [officials] in the past do not impact the election process.”
The statement added that the military would promote “security and safety” and not allow people to “cause insecurity and destroy Cambodia’s peace”.
Reached yesterday, Nicfec executive director Sam Kuntheamy said it appeared the Defence Ministry had misinterpreted the joint statement, which he said was not meant as criticism.
He said the groups, which have created an “election situation room” to address concerns during the campaign and polling process, would hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss the ministry’s “very angry” response.
“It is very serious and we are concerned,” Kuntheamy said.
“We have a situation room meeting tomorrow morning to discuss. But for me I think it is a very serious what the spokesman of the MoD said, we feel upset and intimated when we see that reaction.”