As if the June 4 commune elections race had never ended, Prime Minister Hun Sen returned to his bellicose campaign talk on Wednesday by once again threatening to kill hundreds to stay in power and accusing the opposition of fomenting war with its words.
Dressed in his formal military greens, the prime minister left Phnom Penh for Tbong Khmum province by helicopter in the early morning to visit the place where, 40 years ago as a young deputy regional commander for the Khmer Rouge, he defected to Vietnam and helped found a rebel force that would aid in toppling the regime in 1979.
Seated outdoors in the sun behind a broad wooden desk in Koh Thma village, backed by his interior minister and top generals, Mr. Hun Sen—in a thinly veiled reference to the opposition CNRP’s calls for political change—said words could easily plunge the country back into war.
“It is not a weapon, but your tongue is creating war,” he said. “As long as your tongue and your writing insult me, I say that Cambodia is still at war. Do not be reckless. The army is ready to crack down on any movement to overthrow and undermine the country.”
The prime minister repeated his bloody campaign promise to preserve peace at all costs, appearing to take direct aim at opposition figure Sam Rainsy, who was pressured to step down as CNRP president earlier this year by an amended political party law and lives abroad avoiding prison sentences for convictions widely seen as politically motivated.
“Your tongue is the reason for war. If you still make insults and threats to kill, you have to prepare your coffin,” he said. “To protect the peace for millions of people, if necessary, 100 or 200 must be eliminated. Please listen carefully…. Whoever intends to undermine peace will receive what you deserve.”
During the election campaign, the CNRP dismissed the government’s claims that it had any violent intentions, insisting it had no weapons to start or fight a war. Kem Sokha, who succeeded Mr. Rainsy as CNRP president, sought to assure those in power that they would not be persecuted if replaced.
Election observers have praised the government for managing an Election Day largely unmarred by violence, but said the repeated warnings of war and violence from the prime minister and other top officials during the campaign helped prevent the election from being free and fair.
On Wednesday, however, Mr. Hun Sen admitted the power struggle was personal.
“There is an attempt to destroy the Hun family. The Hun family is not the family for you to attack for fun,” he said, asking his three sons to stand behind him.
Lieutenant General Hun Manet, the oldest, heads the Defense Ministry’s counterterrorism department and is deputy commander of his father’s personal bodyguard unit. Major General Hun Manith, the prime minister’s second son, is deputy commander of the military’s powerful intelligence unit. Both came wearing their own military uniforms. Hun Many, the prime minister’s youngest, is a National Assembly lawmaker for his father’s ruling CPP.
“The Hun family is the family that shares your sorrows and the happiness of the Cambodian people,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “The Hun family does not own a monopoly on this country. The Hun family ensures the protection of the country’s peace. Please don’t incite to foment turmoil.”
In July last year, Global Witness released a report exposing the Hun family’s sprawling business empire. By combing through the Cambodian government’s online business registry records—since scrubbed of shareholder information—the U.K. NGO found that the prime minister’s children and extended family had significant shares in more than 100 companies with a combined capital of more than $200 million in sectors spanning the economy.
It warned current and prospective foreign investors of the risks of doing business with the companies—some of them accused of abusing the law with impunity—in a highly corrupt environment under Mr. Hun Sen’s virtually unchecked control.
At the time, the prime minister’s children bashed the report and the local English-language media that published articles about it. They claimed it was full of inaccuracies but pointed out none, save Maj. Gen. Manith’s military rank.
At on Wednesday ceremony, the prime minister donated piles of food to area villagers, then leisurely retraced his escape 40 years ago to Vietnam, where he was greeted at the border by Vietnamese officials with a large bouquet of flowers.