Talk of a coup, and threats to its unnamed plotters, have peppered the speeches of Prime Minister Hun Sen in recent days.
But if a coup is indeed afoot, it seems few people but the prime minister and his innermost circle have any inkling of who might be involved.
In a saber-rattling speech in Kompong Cham province on Monday, Hun Sen warned senior officials-among them his own brother Hun Neng, Kompong Cham provincial governor-that they would be removed if they were disobedient.
Military and police officials, however, said security forces remain loyal to Hun Sen.
“Please don’t be worried,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak in the days following the speech. “The entire Cambodian armed forces, we are behind the prime minister and support his activities.” “So does every province of the country,” he added.
Khieu Sopheak said he didn’t know anything about any suspected coups, and suggested speaking to the prime minister’s cabinet or his advisers, joking to reporters that they should tell him if they learned who the plotters might be.
Asked about a possible coup, Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, told a reporter in no uncertain terms to listen to the premier’s speech again, saying he had nothing to add.
“I am not like Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk,” Hun Sen said in his speech, his voicing rising with emotion.
“Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk let others stage a coup. Hun Sen will not. Do not gamble on trying this. You do it, you die. You are told in advance.”
Hun Sen said he would use armed forces against coup plotters, adding that if Ke Kim Yan, RCAF Commander-in-Chief, did not obey orders, he would be fired and the task would fall instead to Kun Kim, RCAF Deputy Commander-in-Chief.
The premier said his own brother Hun Neng and Sao Sokha, the commander of the military police, would be dismissed if they ignored his orders.
“I have been patient for too long. This is the limit of my patience…. The armed forces are in my hands, no one can object,” Hun Sen said. “If Ke Kim Yan does not do it, I will use Kun Kim. But Ke Kim Yan has to do it, if not he will be removed.”
While waiting at Phnom Penh International Airport for the premier to return from China, where he reportedly met with Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong, Ke Kim Yan on Wednesday downplayed rumors of a coup and a rift between himself and Hun Sen.
“There is no coup,” he said. “I have no problem with [Hun Sen].”
Some had speculated that the current talk of a coup and the warnings to the military to obey orders indicated a possible split within the CPP, but a statement released Tuesday by CPP President Chea Sim seemed to rule out that possibility as well.
“While the Royal Government of Cambodia has recently achieved bright success in solving the border issue with neighboring countries, a handful of reactionaries have increased their campaign to twist the truth about the border issue and attack the royal government, especially Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen,” an unofficial translation of the statement reads. “The CPP strongly condemns this reactionary group,” it adds, although the “reactionary group” is not explicitly named.
Acting head of state Chea Sim in 2003 abruptly left Cambodia for Bangkok for medical reasons when he was expected to sign a Constitutional amendment effectively legalizing the current coalition government.
The morning he left, police surrounded his house, before he was escorted out of the country by National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, at the time second deputy president of the Senate and now co-Minister of Defense, signed off on the amendment in Chea Sim’s absence.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh this week claimed ignorance of the suspected plotters, but seemed enthused about the possibility of taking action against them.
“I don’t know who it is,” he said when asked who might be planning a coup. “If there was a coup, would they tell you?”
“If someone dares stage a coup, I will pound them,” he added, joking: “I’ve been free for a rather long time.” Only Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith seemed to have any details about the suspected plotters, but even these were vague.
“We have to prevent some people who might use the border issue and the name of the King to overthrow the government by undemocratic means,” he said Wednesday at the airport.
But he declined to further specify who that group might be, adding: “Some people try to push a confrontation between the government and the retired King.”
Despite the lack of any particular enemy, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, by e-mail from Paris, argued that Hun Sen is feeling threatened for a variety of reasons: Divisions within the CPP, a rift with retired King Norodom Sihanouk on the border issue, increased pressure from donors because of what he described as the country’s poor economic performance, and popular discontent over issues such as unemployment and corruption.
“Suppressing or weakening the internal-within the CPP-and external-present and potential-opposition is Hun Sen’s main objective in order to preserve his regime,” Sam Rainsy said. “He feels threatened by recent developments.”
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