Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said on Tuesday the military was investigating a video in which a man announces plans for a coup d’etat against Prime Minister Hun Sen, and had separately ordered a convoy of tanks to be moved from the Thai border to near Phnom Penh for “repairs.”
The announcement came as tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on Phnom Penh on Sunday to join a procession to escort the body of slain political analyst Kem Ley back to his home village in Takeo province, about 70 km southwest of the capital.
General Sucheat said the military had started investigating a video uploaded to YouTube and posted to Facebook on Sunday that shows a man who identifies himself as “Siem Reap Angkor” and calls on the military to prepare for a coup d’etat.
“This activity is very crazy, and our armed forces are searching for the person who wants a coup d’etat against the legal government,” Gen. Sucheat said. “We will not allow a coup d’etat to happen in Cambodia, and this is a crazy activity that we cannot forgive.”
Sitting in front of a camouflage banner and speaking in an accent distinct to the southwestern province of Koh Kong, near the border with Thailand, the unidentified man announces vague plans “to liberate the nation from Hun Sen’s dictatorial regime.”
“The unit of the southwest region informs every unit and ministry around the country to please shortly be prepared to oppose the dictatorial regime led by the CPP’s Hun Sen and the communist Yuon,” the man says, using a pejorative term for Vietnamese.
“Our unit does not recognize the current government led by Hun Sen, the president of the CPP.”
The video, just over four minutes in length, lists Mr. Hun Sen’s many alleged human rights abuses over his 31 years in power as reasons for the coup. It was not shared widely until the CPP-aligned Fresh News service posted it with a story on Tuesday about the plans for an investigation.
Around the same time, videos started spreading on Facebook showing numerous tanks being moved from a military base near Preah Vihear temple on the Thai border on the highway to Phnom Penh on Monday.
Gen. Sucheat said the transportation of the tanks was not related to the coup threat. He said the equipment was, in fact, being moved to another major military base in Kompong Speu province—about 45 km west of Phnom Penh along National Road 4.
“Some tanks were brought from Preah Vihear province to be put in the military base in Kompong Speu province for repairs, because it’s now the rainy season, so we need to bring them there to repair and to have them in a safe place,” Gen. Sucheat said.
“We can’t keep them in the rain and forest,” he said. “Please don’t worry, as it’s not a problem.”
Srey Doek, commander of the military’s third division based in Preah Vihear province, declined to comment on the movement of the tanks and referred questions to Hing Bunheang, commander of Mr. Hun Sen’s elite bodyguard unit. He could not be reached.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said there was now little reason to keep the tanks near Preah Vihear temple, as tensions with the Thai government over the temple’s ownership had ebbed, and so the tanks were moving to more useful places.
“Preah Vihear is no longer active, so they’re going to a few military centers, one in Kompong Speu, one in Kompong Chhnang and one in Battambang to do practice,” Mr. Siphan said, adding he had not heard anything about the tanks being repaired.
“How many can they repair? I have learned they are doing practice and firing live ammunition, but maybe check with [Defense Minister] Tea Banh,” he said.
General Banh could not be reached on Tuesday.
Long Kimkhorn, a military expert who researches international relations at Phnom Penh’s Pannasastra University, said the Kompong Speu base was strategically important due to its proximity to the capital and the elite Brigade 911 paratrooper unit.
“It could be for repairs, or just to take them there for some military matter, but moving that tactical equipment to Kompong Speu… which is a special military area, could also be about the security of the capital rather than repairs,” Mr. Kimhorn said.
He added that the transport of the tanks could be related to either the apparent coup threat or Sunday’s planned funeral procession for the popular analyst Kem Ley, which is is expected to draw tens of thousands of his grieving supporters to Phnom Penh.
“To be frank, in the current situation, everything is possible right now,” he said. “If I put myself in the government’s shoes, for security matters, anything could happen, and they might be trying to move in advance.”
Kem Ley, who was popular for his political analyses and criticism of the ruling CPP, was shot dead while preparing to drink coffee at a gas station in Phnom Penh on July 10. His body has since been lying in wake at a pagoda in the city’s Chroy Changva district.
But Buntenh, a dissident monk who has been helping organize Kem Ley’s funeral proceedings, said he believed the movement of the tanks was meant to scare the crowds of mourners planning to come to Phnom Penh.
“This is them trying to intimidate people because of the upcoming march for the dead body of Kem Ley, because so many people are coming,” he said.
However, Mr. Siphan, the Council of Ministers spokesman, said there was no intention to intimidate.
“Cambodians are not scared by things like that,” Mr. Siphan said. “It’s just you that says that.”