Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered the country’s troops to begin mobilizing to crack down on what he has labeled a “coup” attempt by exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Speaking to high school students who graduated with A grades, Hun Sen said Rainsy’s pledged return on Nov. 9 with a group of senior leaders amounted to armed resistance due to their courting of soldiers.
“They announced last night they were fundraising to feed the military,” Hun Sen said, claiming this prompted him to get the military involved.
“I tell you once: It’s an armed group; I will attack,” he said in the speech, at Phnom Penh’s Peace Palace. “This gives the armed forces the opportunity to act, and the army knows their duty.”
Hun Sen also urged the dissolved opposition party to attempt their return sooner and test their support among the country’s soldiers.
“Now, they said they have a survey that says 65 percent of the armed forces supports them. Come on, don’t wait till that day to come, come before that,” he said.
“Nov. 9 is National Independence Day, and the birthday of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces; it is not suitable that they take the day as the day to overthrow of the legitimate Royal Government and arrest the Prime Minister,” Hun Sen added.
Contacted on Monday by email, the CNRP’s vice president Mu Sochua repeated a statement issued last week, in which the party denies that their pledge to return is a coup attempt.
“CNRP resolutely rejects the notion that the return from exile of the CNRP leaders can be treated as intention to commit armed rebellion as such charges have no relation neither to reality nor to legality,” Sochua tweeted on Monday after Hun Sen’s speech. “We have no arms.”
In the same speech, Hun Sen also attacked political analyst Meas Nee as “the worst” and “low level” in his analyses while calling commentator Lao Mong Hay’s Ph.D. degree “ash” and “stupid.”
Mong Hay said he was used to Hun Sen’s attacks, though Monday’s comments were less frightening than some others.
“It is gratifying that my comments got across to the Prime Minister,” Mong Hay said. “I am used to receiving such a reaction from him. This time, it is much less frightening than some I got in the past.”
Nee didn’t immediately responded to a request for comment.
The CNRP was dissolved by Supreme Court order in November 2017 following local-level elections in June in which it won 44 percent of the vote. Party president Kem Sokha was arrested in September that year over accusations of colluding with the U.S. to overthrow the government, leading the Interior Ministry to request the party’s dissolution.