Prime Minister Hun Sen used a Khmer New Year speech in Siem Reap province on Thursday to remind citizens that he would brook no perceived threat to the social stability he takes personal credit for forging out of the civil war that followed the fall of Pol Pot.
The prime minister told his audience, as he has countless times before, that it was because of his “win-win” policy that saw Khmer Rouge rebels defect to the government in the 1990s that Cambodia enjoys peace today.
“Peace has brought us survival, and peace has brought us development, improved livelihoods and poverty reduction, so we have to keep the peace to exist into the future,” he said. “And we will not pardon anyone who wants to cause incidents, divisions or social turmoil in our society.”
True to form, Mr. Hun Sen left the target of his threat unnamed. But he has frequently suggested that the country risks a return to civil war if the opposition CNRP ever comes to power.
Several opposition officials have been charged with incitement and insurrection over the past two years in cases widely seen as politically motivated.
Just this week, CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An was arrested and charged with “incitement to commit crimes causing turmoil” over Facebook posts in which he accused the ruling CPP of using the wrong maps to demarcate Cambodia’s border with Vietnam. He was arrested despite the immunity guaranteed to lawmakers in the Constitution; the government claimed an exemption to the clause, arguing that because his posts were still online, the alleged crime was perpetually occurring.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is in exile to avoid a defamation conviction, was also charged with incitement late last year over Facebook posts about the border demarcation. Mr. Hun Sen has arranged royal pardons for him twice before, but vowed on Thursday not to do so again.
“We have a culture of pardoning and a culture of peace, but we cannot pardon anyone who has attempted to make Cambodia fall into instability,” he said.
“Hopefully our foreign friends understand Cambodia, because the ones who would suffer would not be the foreigners but the Cambodian people,” he said, appearing to address the foreign diplomats in attendance.
“So the foreigners who are here and who are not here are required to understand any measures the Royal Government has taken to prevent any movement that can cause social turmoil.”
Mr. Sam An’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, said he would request bail for his client next week, once the Khmer New Year holiday was over.