General Neang Phat has become the second senior military official to wade into the current political impasse between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP government and the CNRP, accusing the opposition party of trying to destabilize the country, according to a local media report.
Gen. Phat, who also holds the rank of CPP secretary of state at the Defense Ministry, made his comments about the CNRP in a speech on Monday at the headquarters of the elite Brigade 70 unit in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, according to Cambodia Express News (CEN), the online site of local newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea.
“The Cambodia National Rescue Party does not recognize the National Election Committee and the fifth mandate government. Their intention is to cause trouble for the people and disorder, chaos, and insecurity for the country,” Gen. Phat said in his speech to the B-70 unit, according to CEN.
According to CEN, Gen. Phat also called on members of the armed forces to “defend the Constitution, the King, the legal government and not allow any group to damage the peace.”
Brigade 70 provided personal bodyguard protection for Prime Minister Hun Sen until 2009. That year, Mr. Hun Sen created the even more elite and specialized Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, which is headed by Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, the former commander of B-70. Both units are outside the normal chain of command in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and answer directly to Mr. Hun Sen.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Tea Banh told an annual meeting of the National Military Police that the country’s armed forces would remain committed to defending Mr. Hun Sen’s government amid the ongoing dispute with the CNRP.
The CNRP’s leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, led massive street rallies in Phnom Penh in December calling for a new election or the resignation of Mr. Hun Sen. The CNRP has accused the CPP of narrowly winning the July 2013 national election due to systematic irregularities in the electoral process.
Gen. Banh also accused the opposition of causing chaos in society, which the military must not allow to succeed, CEN reported.
Major General Duong Ra, deputy commander of B-70, said Tuesday that he was not present for Gen. Phat’s speech, but he supported the core ideas: “Our stance is to defend the Constitution, the King and the government. This is the general view of the armed forces of all countries.”
The government suspended the constitutional right to freedom of assembly following the bloody repression of protesting garment factory strikers on January 3, when military police officers shot dead five and wounded more than 40 with assault rifle fire.
Peaceful protests by unions, anti-eviction activists, NGOs and, most recently, independent radio station owner Mam Sonando have continued in defiance of the government’s attempt to suspend Article 41 of the Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of assembly.
Commenting on the latest criticism of his party by the top brass of the armed forces, CNRP lawmaker- elect and spokesman Yim Sovann said democratic countries do not allow members of the armed forces to actively support political parties.
“We are in no doubt that nowadays the top commanders lead the armed forces to serve the Cambodian People’s Party,” Mr. Sovann said.
“They do not have democratic ideals.”
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