The commander-in-chief of Cambodia’s armed forces yesterday levelled a bold, seemingly baseless accusation at the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, claiming it was planning to “prepare armed forces” along the border to wage war against the government.
The CNRP was dissolved and 118 of its members banned from politics in November for allegedly attempting to foment a foreign-backed “colour revolution”, an accusation that has been decried by the international community as a fabricated pretence for the ruling party to clear the electoral field of its only viable challenger.
“The 118 members still have the idea that they will prepare armed forces along the Cambodia-Thailand border as in the civil war era,” Pol Saroeun claimed at the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ year-end review.
“The historical achievement of our country in 2017 was to destroy the colour revolution plan in Cambodia. If the plan had not been destroyed, the protection of peace – which is of the highest value – could not be achieved.”
Saroeun offered no evidence for the claims of an insurgency in the making, and the CNRP has professed its commitment to nonviolence for years, even in the face of sometimes-bloody government crackdowns on its demonstrations. Nonetheless, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – of which Saroeun is a high-ranking member – has gone to tremendous lengths to paint the CNRP as a threat to peace in Cambodia.
Saroeun yesterday went so far as to attribute purportedly robust tourism over the New Year’s holiday to the party’s dissolution.
“This is the success of the prevention of colour revolution, and it is inarguable and it is the truth,” he said, noting tourists don’t visit warzones.
Tourism has grown steadily in recent years, though the rate of growth actually took a dip in October, the last month for which official statistics are available. The government’s crackdown on dissent started in earnest the month before, with the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha, the expulsion of a US-funded NGO and the shuttering of numerous independent media outlets.
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh issued a travel warning in September in response to heightened anti-American rhetoric from ruling party officials, who blamed the US – along with the EU – for allegedly backing the CNRP’s purported “revolution”.
Saroeun yesterday also took shots at shuttered independent news sources Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia. Claiming both media outlets criticised him personally, Saroeun said the “situation now is better” without them.
Despite his warnings that the CNRP will continue its attempt to topple the government, along with its “backers”, Saroeun maintained yesterday there will be no “rebirth” for the dissolved party.
He went on to praise the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, noting that the Cambodian people had “no reaction” to the dissolution of the opposition party. Hun Sen, for his part, has openly declared that he would be willing to “eliminate 100 to 200 people” to preserve stability.
Mu Sochua, former deputy president of the CNRP, yesterday dismissed Saroeun’s claims as “propaganda” meant to justify violence in response to any protests that may arise.
Sochua, who fled Cambodia after receiving a warning of her own imminent arrest, added that the government is “using army and police forces that should be neutral to spread fear” among would-be protesters.
Political analyst Meas Nee agreed that Saroeun’s message was “political manipulation”.
Despite the army’s nominal neutrality, Nee said it was “not surprising at all” that its commander publicly supported the ruling party. Nee also questioned the government’s “success” in preventing a colour revolution that never showed any signs of materialising.
“The colour revolution was only a suspicion by the government . . . raised by themselves,” he said.
He went on to say the accusations of civil war likely stemmed from comments by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who urged soldiers to disobey commanders if ordered to shoot protesters.
“I don’t think there would be any possibility of organising guerrilla warfare,” he said.