Soldiers in armored personnel carriers (APCs) were stationed in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district on Thursday amid persistent government warnings that the opposition’s plans to contest the preliminary results of the July 28 national election will not be tolerated.
Though Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officials have denied any connection between reported movements of troops and APCs and the contested election result, yesterday was the first time heavy armor has been deployed anywhere in the country other than the Thai border in a decade.
Six APCs mounted with recoilless guns and two military trucks were seen camped near National Road 5 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district yesterday afternoon.
RCAF Brigadier General Phen Sothy, whose uniform carried the logo of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, said he and his men were bringing the armored vehicles to Phnom Penh for maintenance.
“We’re just bringing them back to the warehouse for repairs,” Brig. Gen. Sothy said, denying that his armored unit was related to tension over the contested election, which both Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP and Sam Rainsy’s opposition CNRP claim to have won.
Brig. Gen. Sothy said his unit had been stationed along the Thai-Cambodian border and had just arrived in Phnom Penh that afternoon. He did not explain why his unit had not driven directly to a military base to undertake repairs, as he had claimed.
Sen Sok district governor Lor Chanly later denied the presence of any APCs in his area, but confirmed that a contingent of soldiers had recently arrived to prevent petty crime.
“Armed forces such as police and soldiers came…to ensure public order and to prevent theft,” he said, declining to comment further.
Photographs posted Thursday on Facebook also claimed to show APCs traveling along National Road 6 in Batheay district, Kompong Cham province.
RCAF Major General Prum Din, whose Special Military Region 1 covers Phnom Penh as well as Kandal and Kompong Chhnang provinces, said he was not aware of any deployment of APCs, but added that soldiers were usually moved around to assist with flooding.
“We usually have soldiers sent to help people who face flooding,” he said. “I think people won’t be frightened by the soldiers because they know the soldiers always help them.”
On Monday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng warned of unspecified “trouble” if the CNRP did not return to negotiations over the investigation of voting irregularities. A few days after the election, Prime Minister Hun Sen himself warned that pro-CPP counter-protests were sure to meet any demonstrations organized by the CNRP and that the opposition would be responsible for any subsequent violence.
In a post on his Facebook page Thursday, CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who is currently in the U.S. for his daughter’s wedding, said he had received numerous reports of soldiers being redeployed to Phnom Penh in recent days.
“I know this activity is happening by the order of a ruling person, and I know that you comrade nephews, military, police and all armed forces are waiting for a new government to provide a salary of at least 1 million riel [about $250] a month,” he said.
“So this is a golden opportunity for all of you to unite and stand up with our people and our National Rescue Youth to demand change and create a new government in 2013,” Mr. Rainsy said in his post.
“Please, all armed forces be willing to protect the people by the rules of Buddhism.”
In Prey Veng province, Peamro district governor Sao Prasith said on Wednesday that soldiers had arrived a few days earlier but he declined to give details.
“There are soldiers here but I can’t say more because it is the secret mission of the soldiers,” he said.
Por Leang, a district resident, said he had seen about 150 soldiers spread out between a local pagoda and a sawmill and that they were still there as of yesterday evening.
“It’s very strange because in previous election years, I have never seen them send soldiers here. In my opinion the soldiers are to prevent chaos or demonstrations,” he said.
Heang Vutha, a local villager who was fishing near the APCs in Sen Sok district yesterday, said he believed the government was moving in the soldiers and armored vehicles to scare the opposition out of any plans to protests the election results, but he did not expect any violence.
“I don’t believe these things [APCs] could wage a war because there is no other side that can fight back,” he said. “It’s just intimidation.”