Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Friday confirmed that the deployment of armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Phnom Penh from the Thai-Cambodian border is part of a concerted security operation in response to the opposition’s plans to hold protests against the outcome of the July 28 national election.
A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy responded on Friday by urging the government to resolve the contested results peacefully and without using intimidation.
On Thursday, six APCs pulled into a pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, while photographs posted to Facebook claimed to depict more armored vehicles traveling on National Road 6 in Kompong Cham province.
“The fact is, that this information is not wrong,” he told reporters in response to a question about the deployment of armored vehicles and soldiers after a meeting with NGOs at the Interior Ministry about an investigation into election irregularities.
“But I would like to inform the public that His Excellency Sam Rainsy has spoken multiple times from place to place about a huge protest. If I remember well, he said it seven times already.”
Despite increased security measures, the opposition CNRP has called for calm and restraint in the wake of the election and has also said that demonstrations will only be conducted as a last resort.
The post-election climate has also been largely peaceful, save for the detonation of a grenade behind the Phnom Penh Municipal Court early Wednesday, in which no one was injured. An investigation into the explosion is ongoing.
Mr. Kheng has written twice to Mr. Rainsy since election day—once on July 31 to warn him that demonstrations must be confined to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, and again on Thursday, warning that there would be arrests and “consequences” if the demonstrations turn violent.
“In general, the governments in every country shall have the obligation to keep security and stability for the country,” Mr. Kheng told reporters. “But I don’t know whether or not [Mr. Rainsy] can control demonstrators. So it is our utmost concern, not just the government.”
He denied that deployment of APCs and soldiers was intended to intimidate people, insisting that it was for security reasons only.
“Of course, it doesn’t carry if there is ill purpose to intimidate people and the opposition,” he said. “Usually, the government has an obligation to maintain security.”
U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh urged all parties to proceed in a peaceful manner.
“As we have previously stated, the United States urges all parties and their supporters to continue to act in a peaceful manner in the post-election period, and to seek resolution of electoral disputes through transparent dialogue rather than resorting to intimidation, repression, or violent civil unrest,” he said in an email.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Friday reiterated his party’s stance that any demonstrations would be a last resort and said that the ruling CPP will only be doing itself a disservice if it supports the use of violence.
“This measure is out of depth,” he said. “We are struggling for justice. Justice will prevail and violence will fail.”
He said the party’s main focus continues to be around the negotiating table at which the CNRP, CPP and National Election Committee plan to investigate the election-related irregularities that the CNRP believes may have prevented it from a legitimate victory.
“I would like to appeal to all parties, especially the CPP, to stop intimidation that affects the people. The country belongs to the people. People want justice, and you show them armed forces. If you show force and you want to hide justice and solve problems by force, it is not the best way for Cambodian society.”