Sam Rainsy Rejects Accusation of Inciting Military Coup

CNRP president Sam Rainsy on Monday defended his recent Facebook posts urging police and soldiers to “stand up” with the people and “demand” a change of government, and dismissed claims from the ruling CPP that he was inciting a coup.

Mr. Rainsy—whose party is disputing preliminary results from last month’s national election showing a CPP victory and threatening mass protests if alleged electoral irregularities are not investigated—said his posts were not meant to encourage mutiny, but rather the peace­ful conduct of the armed forces.

“We just want to urge policemen and soldiers to refrain from using violence against any citizens because we all are Khmers, peaceful Buddhists, and love our country,” he wrote in an email from the U.S. where he is attending his daughter’s wedding.

“Whoever interprets our words in a different, far-fetched, way are factually wrong and politically ill-intended,” he added.

Mr. Rainsy started posting the series of comments, directed at the country’s armed forces, to his Facebook page on Thursday—the same day hundreds of soldiers started entering Phnom Penh to counter the opposition’s threats of mass demonstration.

“This is a golden opportunity for all of you to unite and stand up with our people and our National Rescue Youth to demand change and create a new government in 2013,” one of the comments read.

CPP senior lawmaker and defacto party spokesman Cheam Yeap said Sunday that Mr. Rainsy’s online remarks were nothing short of incitement and grounds for a lawsuit, and stood by his claim Monday.

“If his Facebook is real, he must be responsible for his words. It is incitement to create chaos and impact national security,” he said. “It is stated clearly in the criminal code.”

Mr. Yeap said the government had no immediate plans to file a lawsuit, however.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Monday denied that Mr. Rainsy was inciting the armed forces—widely perceived as partial toward the CPP—but wanted them to remain neutral amid the political tensions.

“The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces are a national force, which do not belong to any political party,” he said at a press conference at CNRP headquarters to reject preliminary election results released by the National Election Committee earlier that morning.

“What president Sam Rainsy was calling for was good will, to show the national and international community that the CNRP wants a peaceful solution. The army should not work for any political party; they should be in the middle and let the political parties settle the issue peacefully.”

Sok Sam Oeun, a leading human rights lawyer who heads the Cambodian Defenders Project, said Mr. Rainsy’s vague language combined with the breadth of the country’s laws on incitement could indeed open the opposition leader up to a potential legal attack.

“It is a risk,” he said. “If the court interprets the law broadly, it is OK [for Mr. Rainsy] because the law only talks about raising the arms. The words ‘stand up’ here maybe don’t mean raising arms.”

But given Mr. Rainsy’s past convictions on dubious grounds, he added, fresh legal action could not be ruled out.

“In Cambodia we cannot predict; it is possible,” he said. “For example, with the cases against him in the past, people thought he was not guilty but he was convicted.”

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