Tea Banh Recalls Time Before Political Detente

In a throwback to the period before last year’s political deal, Defense Minister Tea Banh on Tuesday used a speech in Kompong Speu province to recall his anger at the opposition CNRP’s apparent attempt to stoke a “color revolution” after the disputed 2013 national election.

Speaking at the end of a technical training seminar at the Techo Hun Sen Military Institute, General Banh recalled Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to security forces last week to prevent any “color revolutions” from breaking out in Cambodia.

“He has already issued the order, so I will continue on a little bit about ‘color revolutions,’” Gen. Banh told the group of about 500 soldiers. “Sometimes people hear ‘color revolution’ and they don’t understand. What is a color revolution?”

“The cause of the political situation in the country is the fast development and the fast change, and if we cannot catch [the revolution] and know it well…” Gen. Banh continued—not completing the thought before shifting to a new idea.

“Because I have clearly noticed that, the one who is actively managing the scheme and acting to serve the color revolution is near to us, is close to us,” he said.

“For the color revolution to succeed, they use the word ‘power of the people,’ and many times ‘topple the state through the use of nonviolence,’” he said. “They know very clearly about color revolutions in Russia and Ukraine.”

After the disputed 2013 election, opposition leader Sam Rainsy raised the prospect of Mr. Hun Sen suffering the same fate as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who was ousted after street protests that began in November 2013.

Gen. Banh said he could not forget that time, and reminded the 500 military trainees what the opposition had done.

“They said ‘Hun Sen, step down,’” Gen. Banh remembered, referring to the popular chant during protests by the CNRP in December 2013 and the initial days of January 2014 before violent suppression by the government.

“That really hurt my feelings,” he added. “They said ‘Hun Sen, step down,’ and made gestures. I was very angry.”

At the meeting of senior military and police officials last week, Mr. Hun Sen said that recent disturbances in Cambodia—a reference to territorial disputes along the Vietnamese border—“were provoked by the CNRP,” according to a statement from the Council of Ministers.

“More importantly, Hun Sen asked the armed forces to ensure that a ‘color revolution’ cannot take place in Cambodia. Under any conditions, eliminate [the revolution] to protect the legitimate government. The armed forces are not neutral between government and political parties,” the statement said.

In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Rainsy, the opposition leader, said he was not concerned by the change in language from the government, but took it as a warning for the CNRP to end its trips to disputed border areas.

“I think that this change in the language may reflect some tensions that go beyond what we apparently see with the CNRP and may reflect a difficult situation with tensions with many other forces involved too,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“The Cambodian government… has become embroiled in this border conflict with Vietnam, and has been emboldened by the support of China, and I think now the Hun Sen government wants to decrease these tensions with Vietnam,” he added.

“These tensions go beyond the CNRP, but this is why Hun Sen does not want us to go to the border again.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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