Army Commander Hun Manet asked troops to be wary of opposition groups attempting to sow dissent among the ranks in an attempt to destroy peace, which is a thinly-veiled reference to Sam Rainsy’s past calls for the military to disobey orders if asked to kill Cambodian citizens.
The deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, was speaking at an anniversary celebration for the Bodyguard Unit in Kandal province, which is tasked with protecting the prime minister.
Hun Manet said outside forces were trying to break up the military by trying to plant and exploit internal dissent. He took umbrage to accusations that the armed forces were being used as a “tool to destroy democracy.”
“A strong iron still has its internal weaknesses,” Hun Manet said. “If [a problem] emerges from the insiders, it would be difficult.”
The deputy commander-in-chief referred to the largely peaceful protests in the United States against police brutality and systemic racism. According to Hun Manet, the U.S. government should send in the military to control the situation.
“For the demonstrations in the United States, if it becomes a riot and a mess, the United States would send troops to take control, if the police cannot maintain control,” he added.
The comments came as the Cambodian government has cracked down on the freedom of assembly by arresting and jailing several youth and rights activists for protesting the arrest of trade unionist Rong Chhun in late July.
Hun Manet also listed out freedoms enjoyed by Cambodians such as the freedom to go to the pagoda and practice Buddhism.
“Who forbids the freedom of the people to go to the pagoda, forbids the freedom of the people, forbids the freedom of all monks in religious worship?…except for when someone wears monk’s robes for doing politics,” he said.
Among the nearly two dozen activists arrested by the Cambodian police, officials have also detained an activist monk, who was also defrocked and expelled by his pagoda.
Meas Ny, a political analyst, said that while Cambodia was at peace, people were still struggling with land disputes and in expressing themselves about national issues, such as border issues.
“Land issues, border issues, it is the right of citizens to speak out, but it has been threatened by the [state] control system,” he said. “So, all this is called social injustice.”