PHNOM PENH —
Cambodia’s top general has repeated warnings that the military will intervene if its leadership believes anti-government actions threaten the country’s stability ahead of elections next year.
Gen. Pol Saroeun, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), told officers during the anniversary of the founding of the Cambodian military this week, that his troops would “oppose all activities of opportunistic groups supported by foreigners that aim to topple the legitimate government through incitement to cause violence.”
He said the first duty of the military was to “maintain and protect, absolutely, peace” and also to “crackdown on any color revolution”, a reference to the widespread perception among Prime Minister Hun Sen’s top officials that there exists a foreign plot intent on overthrowing his government.
The international community has continued to express its concerns ahead of next year’s election after the government moved to disband the main opposition party, arrested its leader, Kem Sokha, expelled foreign democracy advocates from the country, and shuttered a number of media outlets.
Gen. Tea Banh, defense minister, echoed Gen. Saroeun’s remarks during a separate speech to soldiers at the ceremony at Kampong Speu province’s Infantry Institute. Gen. Banh has previously said the military will “smash the teeth” of anti-government protesters.
He said the Cambodian People’s Party leadership expects tensions ahead of the election to “reach the highest level.”
“We have to prepare for anything,” he said. “The events that could take place in 2018 is a situation that we have to keep track of tightly ... and agree to work together from the top to the bottom to do something [to prevent the government’s overthrow].”
He went on to describe the arrest of Sokha as a “gift from an angel”.