Talk of the country descending into civil war in the run-up to July’s national election continued Monday as Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated that an election victory for the opposition would ignite nationwide violence that would spill over into neighboring Vietnam.
Mr. Hun Sen’s comments came just two days after Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sam Rainsy issued a statement saying that a decision by the National Assembly last week to strip 27 opposition politicians of their positions has created the preconditions for civil war in the country.
Speaking to villagers at the inauguration of a pagoda in Kompong Chhnang province’s Toek Phos district, Mr. Hun Sen claimed that calls made recently by the CNRP to take back previously contested land with Vietnam would spur violence.
“I have real indicators showing that war will take place if these guys are elected,” Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd. “There will be both an internal war and external war, especially a war with Vietnam.”
“This time they were not only demanding Koh Tral, but also Prey Nokor,” he said, using the Khmer names for the island off the coast of Vietnam known in Vietnamese as Phu Quoc and for Ho Chi Minh City. “They are making a secret war with Vietnam.”
Mr. Hun Sen claimed the CNRP would incite war on two fronts—by prosecuting former members of the Khmer Rouge who are in the current government and filing a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court in The Hague over contested territory with Vietnam.
“Ho Chi Minh City has a larger population than Cambodia’s current population. This city has over 15 million people, so this will cause war,” he said. Ho Chi Minh City’s population is currently about 8 million people.
Mr. Hun Sen also said that a marathon 5-hour-and-20-minute speech he delivered to the National Assembly last year outlining his stance on the border issue with Vietnam would continue to be re-broadcast on state and private TV and radio stations so that voters were aware of the CPP’s position on territorial disputes with its eastern neighbor.
On Saturday, the prime minister threatened to sue members of the opposition for statements they allegedly made accusing the ruling CPP of allowing Vietnamese nationals entry into Cambodia.
As an apparent attempt to collect evidence on that front, Mr. Hun Sen on Monday called on the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit to record and transcribe all speeches made by opposition party members that accuse his CPP of pandering to Vietnam and to then send transcriptions of all the collected comments to all diplomatic missions and human rights groups in Cambodia.
“So now translate every single word that they use to insult the CPP including those of being a puppet and having a Vietnamese head on a Cambodian body and send them to all foreign embassies, especially the U.N. Agency for Human Rights, Licadho and Adhoc since they don’t have enough information,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said Monday that Mr. Hun Sen’s comments were totally unfounded considering the only person with enough power to instigate a war was the prime minister himself.
“There will not be a state of war, as the border issues we have talked about are a legal issue. We don’t own a single weapon, so how could we cause a war?” Ms. Sochua said.
Ms. Sochua did confirm, however, that the CNRP would indeed strive to take previously contested land with Vietnam back for Cambodia by filing a complaint at The Hague.
“We have a strong commitment to doing that. If anyone does not have a strong will to do it, they can step down and we will do it,” she said.
Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay placed doubt Monday on the eventuality of a civil war breaking out in Cambodia.
“I do not see a war happening from either perspective,” he said. “It is hard to have a civil war, because supporters from both parties have not been violent compared to previous elections, and up to now, we have not seen anyone being killed or victimized because of political violence.”
If anything, he said, Mr. Rainsy and his supporters are more vulnerable than ever before “since they have no weapons,” while those who became rich from their CPP links since 1993 would be unwilling to risk losing it all.
“These are just threats and intimidation,” he said. “Threats are being made because there will be a big shift of votes, as the opposition are likely to gain more votes from the people.”