Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday called on all Cambodians and tourists to enjoy the Water Festival from November 10-12, with nearly 20,000 security personnel to be deployed in Phnom Penh to maintain order.
Hun Sen made the call from neighbouring Thailand, where he had been attending the 35th Asean Summit in Bangkok.
“There are only four days left to Independence Day on November 9, followed by the Water Festival from November 10 to 12. I appeal to our compatriots and national and international tourists to join in the revelry in Phnom Penh and provinces across the country.
“Be prepared with ambok [flattened rice], ripe bananas and green coconut, so we can all eat together on November 9 in an atmosphere full of joy. It is ambok that protects the nation, religion and King,” Hun Sen wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.
The start of the Water Festival this year falls the day after Independence Day on November 9 – the date Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), claims he will return to the Kingdom.
Rainsy has appealed to supporters to welcome him on November 9 as they would have time off work.
However, the government denounced Rainsy’s plan to return as a coup plot after the CNRP co-founder called on the people to rise up and arrest Hun Sen and claimed to have a budget in place for members of the military who defected.
He is also facing charges of insulting King Norodom Sihamoni.
The government has deployed armed forces along the Thai border to maintain security on Independence Day and during the Water Festival.
A National Police spokesperson told The Post on Tuesday that nearly 20,000 officers would be deployed in Phnom Penh alone during the Water Festival.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the situation during the three days of the Water Festival would be no different from previous years, when people greatly enjoyed the celebrations.
He said racing boat crews were arriving in Phnom Penh to train and nothing would interrupt this.
“Please, our people, don’t panic. Like [Minister of Defence] Tea Banh has announced, preparations have been made to control the situation for the public. So it is not unusual to see [security] forces. Please enjoy [the festivities] and don’t be concerned,” Siphan said, referring to the security measures.
“I believe our people will be joining in these celebrations in huge numbers, not only in Phnom Penh but also in pagodas across the country. As we have seen, [Hun Sen] has already called on the people to get ready,” Siphan said.
Bun Veasna, an official at the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, told The Post on Tuesday that security had been well prepared and people should enjoy the celebrations without fear.
“I would like to inform the public and local and international tourists that they should not be concerned because nothing bad will happen at such a major festival.
“Don’t worry about something happening outside Cambodia. Just come and enjoy the celebrations like every year,” he said, adding that around 50,000 rowers and supporters would take part in the boat races.
However, analysts said the troop movements and the large number of security forces to be deployed could make people fearful, causing fewer people to attend the celebrations compared to last year.
“Regarding the atmosphere during Water Festival, I think people will not feel safe as it is the day that former opposition party [leaders] claimed they will return and because of the presence of thousands of security personnel.
“If large numbers of forces are deployed, people may tell their children not to attend out of fear something could happen.
“In 2010, there was a stampede when there were no political issues. With the current situation, the number of visitors could drop. Phnom Penh residents may tell their children not to go to the Water Festival,” said social analyst Meas Nee.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said that many Cambodians were never completely at ease as they were still traumatised by the Kingdom’s tragic history.
The deployment of forces, he said, would not calm people while local and international tourists may also think twice about coming to Phnom Penh.
“I think this year is not like the previous years because there is fear due to the movement of troops, barricades being put up, and security forces on patrol.
“This makes people lose peace of mind. They may just stay at home and the numbers would not be as high as in previous years,” Sovannara said.
Meanwhile, Banteay Meanchey police have put up a banner at the Thai border showing 18 CNRP leaders and supporters, including Sam Rainsy and his wife.
Police deem them a wanted “national treasonous rebel group”, and are appealing to the people to report them if they are seen.