RCAF Asked to Reassure Public After Coup Warnings

Civil society groups and the opposition on Wednesday called on the military to issue a statement repudiating claims made by the owner of a popular radio station that the military would remove the opposition from office if it wins Sunday’s national election.

The calls came after Seng Bunveng, who set up ABC Radio in 2008 and insists on the pseudonym “Aja A,” repeated on air Wednesday morning his warning from Tuesday that the military would stage a coup if the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) wins the ballot.

“Three months after [the CNRP is elected], the blood will flow through the streets,” he said during an early morning broadcast. “Those who struggle for power in [opposition leader] Sam Rainsy’s government—those who couldn’t get positions —will join with defecting soldiers to stage a coup d’etat.”

“At that time, I…will leave the country and the investors will leave our country, and our country will be completely destroyed,” he added.

Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia executive director Koul Panha said that to ensure the legitimacy of Sunday’s election, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) should issue a statement to reassure voters that Mr. Bunveng’s claims are false.

“If this kind of allegation is made, the military should respond to ensure that voters feel comfortable and [that] they have their freedom of expression,” he said. “These comments create fear that stops free voter expression.”

CNRP spokesman Son Chhay also said that the military should publicly reassure voters that it will respect the results of Sunday’s election and serve under a government formed by any party.

“The military should not keep their mouths shut or stay in the shadows any longer—they are the army of the nation, not of the ruling party,” Mr. Chhay said. “The commander-in-chief should say something. If the Ministry of Defense is part of the CPP, that is one thing, but the commander-in-chief should display his neutrality.”

However, RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun referred questions to officials at the Defense Ministry, though he said he had heard of the provocative broadcasts on ABC.

A Defense Ministry major general, who asked not to be identified, said that Mr. Bunveng’s comments were spurious and were likely meant to serve a political purpose.

“This is just Aja A’s idea. The RCAF couldn’t do anything like he is predicting,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that Mr. Bunveng’s claims were too senseless to warrant a response from the military, and claimed that any suggestions otherwise were “propaganda.”

“The military has no power here like [it does] in Thailand,” Mr. Siphan said. “I think the military is civilized enough not to commit a coup d’etat, and I think the NGOs are complicating it—they want to see this period have obstacles and to discredit the results of the election.”

“The NGOs just say people will be too scared to go to vote to make the government look bad,” he added.

However, the last time RCAF tanks and troops were battling in the streets of Phnom Penh was just 16 years ago, when forces loyal to then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen fought forces loyal to then-First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, leading to the prince’s ouster and the inexorable political rise since then of Mr. Hun Sen and his ruling CPP. Prior to that, in the aftermath of the CPP’s election defeat in 1993, a faction in the party threatened to return to arms and form an secessionist zone in the east of the country. That threat led to the formation of a government with the two prime minister—First Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Community Legal Education Cen­ter spokesman Moeun Tola said that besides a statement from the mil­itary denying the radio broadcast, the government should act to stop any violations of the electoral law.

“The NEC and the Ministry of Information should also do something,” he said. “They already banned some broadcasts from foreign radio programs in Khmer…so why is this station allowed to manipulate tensions in this country?”

“I question why the NEC is being so slow,” he added. “The NEC must act on violations, even [those by] pro-CPP institutions, [otherwise] it’s not a good image for the NEC.”

The Ministry of Information in June banned all foreign radio stations from broadcasting Khmer-language programs during the campaign period to ensure neutrality—threatening legal action against stations that failed to comply—before quickly rescinding the ban under international pressure.

After ABC’s radio broadcast on Tuesday, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said that the NEC would monitor ABC Radio to “stop such commentary airing and disturbing the election process.” He reiterated Wedensday that his staff were still in the process of monitoring ABC.

“Now we are dealing with this case,” he said. “I ordered NEC staff to record all of his speech on air today, and tomorrow we will take measures or issue a statement.”

Mr. Chhay of the CNRP said that claims like Mr. Bunveng’s had a similar purpose to threats made by Mr. Hun Sen earlier this year that a civil war would break out if the opposition won the election. He also warned that a coup would also mean bad news for the ruling party.

“The government should be careful when they try to stir up this kind of rumor because they can lose a lot as they are so rich,” he said. “What will happen when all this trouble starts? If there is a coup d’etat, the destruction will not be so good for them.”

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