Deputy military commander Kun Kim has said that the armed forces remain politically neutral, but would “guarantee” opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha were arrested and imprisoned if such a request was made by the courts.
General Kim, one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s chief advisers and a close ally since they defected from the Khmer Rouge before the regime’s fall in 1979, told the Fresh News service in an interview on Monday that soldiers knew their role.
“They are neutral only with the parties, but they cannot be neutral with the government and the prime minister, who is the legitimate prime minister voted in by the people,” Gen. Kim said, echoing a common line since the 2013 national election.
“So the armed forces across the country will absolutely protect the government by not allowing anyone to violate or lead a coup d’etat to topple the legitimate government formed by the citizens’ votes.”
However, Gen. Kim then moved on to the leaders of the opposition CNRP, who are both facing upcoming criminal trials, and said that the armed forces would act to ensure their arrest if they were found guilty.
“If Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy are convicted criminals, they must turn themselves in for arrest to face punishment in accordance with the law,” Gen. Kim said, adding that the army was prepared to ensure that happened.
“I will take measures,” the deputy commander said. “If there is a request from the courts, we, the armed forces, will guarantee the arrest.”
Mr. Rainsy fled to France in November after a years-old criminal defamation case was suddenly reignited by the government, and is now facing another trial over his alleged role as a conspirator in Senator Hong Sok Hour’s forgery and incitement case.
Mr. Sokha has been taking refuge inside the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh for more than three months, after police tried to arrest him for not turning up to court over an alleged mistress’s prostitution case that the government has been aggressively pursuing.
Gen. Kim could not be reached for comment yesterday. In October, as troops rallied along the border calling for Mr. Sokha to be removed as the National Assembly’s first vice president, the general penned a letter in support of his removal.
Mr. Sokha, who was later removed from the position by CPP lawmakers, has been summoned to appear for a trial on September 9 for refusing to attend court questioning three months ago. He faces one to six months in prison if found guilty.
The opposition CNRP argues that Mr. Sokha has immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker, but the CPP has said his refusal to appear in court when summoned constitutes a crime that is not covered by immunity.
The Supreme Court will hear an appeal on Friday from Mr. Sokha’s lawyers to halt the trial, citing his immunity, his lawyer Meng Sopheary said yesterday.
Ms. Sopheary said the date of the hearing—September 2—had been set too close to the date of the summons—August 29—as the law stipulates at least 15 days between the two to allow lawyers to properly prepare for court.
“The time of the summons is too close to the hearing date, which makes us face the difficulty of having no time to discuss or prepare anything to be ready for the upcoming hearing,” Ms. Sopheary said.
Mr. Rainsy, the opposition leader, has accused the CPP of trying to sideline him and Mr. Sokha as Mr. Hun Sen ramps up his own campaigning for the commune council elections in June.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann could not be reached for comment about Gen. Kim’s remarks.