Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said on Thursday that military helicopters, boats with machine guns and trucks of armed and masked troops were deployed around the opposition CNRP’s headquarters on Wednesday for a flood-relief exercise.
For more than three months, Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha has been avoiding arrest by hiding out in the headquarters, which lies between the Bassac River and National Road 2 in Meanchey district.
The CNRP claimed that Wednesday’s exercise was a show of force, but General Sucheat said that ten helicopters, 22 motorboats, eight “military boats” and six trucks carrying soldiers were sent to the area for a special training exercise.
“We train our forces to prepare for floods. It’s like you see on the television—the U.S. Army intervenes when they have floods,” Gen. Sucheat said, before hitting back at the opposition’s claims of intimidation.
“Please quote me: To the party that condemns us by claiming the army intimidates or threatens their headquarters, it’s not the truth,” he said. “Please be careful with your words, because they are insolent and against the army’s reputation and honor.”
“When politicians see the army getting stronger, they should congratulate our developing force, but instead some accuse us of intimidating them,” the spokesman said. “We absolutely condemn anyone who looks down upon the army.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that while he did not know exactly why the military had deployed the forces above and around the party’s headquarters, it was certainly not a routine event.
“I don’t know what was the specific purpose of the people who controlled those helicopters, but I saw a similar thing to this when they cracked down on the demonstrators in January 2014—they moved helicopters above our CNRP headquarters,” Mr. Sovann said.
“There are so many places, and no one does military exercises in the middle of the city. They do it far away, in the forests, or any place that is close to disputed territory,” he added. “In Phnom Penh, there are no issues that require military exercises.”