Tea Banh Tells Armed Forces to Defend Government

Defense Minister Tea Banh used the annual meeting of national military police in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to reiterate that the armed forces would remain committed to defending Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government in the ongoing political dispute with the opposition CNRP, local media and military officials said Thursday.

Speaking at National Military Police Headquarters in Tuol Kok district, General Banh condemned the CNRP’s rolling street demonstrations and marches last month, calling on Mr. Hun Sen to stand down or call a new election, Cambodia Express News (CEN), an online site for leading Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea, reported Thursday.

“[Gen. Banh] said that the opposition party was trying to force the winners to follow them, which is illegal, and inciting chaos in society…which cannot be accepted, and [said] that they cannot be allowed to do such a thing,” CEN said of the meeting, which was open only to handpicked media outlets.

National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito, who attended Wednesday’s meeting of military police, confirmed that Gen. Banh had slammed the CNRP’s peaceful protests and called on the armed forces to defend Mr. Hun Sen’s government.

“[Gen. Banh] said that the opposition party is forcing the party that won to follow them, which is against the law, and that they have incited chaos in society,” Brigadier General Tito said.

“He said that we are the armed forces, and so we must follow the government…[and] that if they [the CNRP] want to protest, they can do so in the National Assembly,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Tito said that he supported the call to defend the CPP government, which the National Election Committee says won the disputed July 28 national election.

“In fact, the demonstrations were incited by the opposition party, and the opposition demonstrations were intended to topple the government, and they wanted Samdech Hun Sen to resign from his position,” Brig. Gen. Tito said.

General Sao Sokha, commander of the National Military Police, declined to comment on Gen. Banh’s speech but said he would protect the government and the Constitution.

“I must protect the Constitution,” he said.

On January 3, Gen. Sokha’s military police shot dead five protesting garment workers, injured more than 40 others, and took 13 prisoners, many of whom were brutally beaten and remain in a maximum-security prison near the Vietnamese border, though they have yet to stand trial for the alleged charges filed against them.

The day before, January 2, paratroopers from the elite 911 Brigade brutally beat and detained 15 strike protesters outside a Korean-owned garment factory in Phnom Penh. Five of the detained were monks. The paratroopers also beat journalists.

Then on January 4, riot police backed up by military police and scores of plain-clothed government thugs armed with steel pipes and sticks violently quashed the opposition party’s rally at Freedom Park, beating monks and civilians in the process.

Three Chinese-purchased military helicopters flew overhead as the gangs of civilian thugs cleared Freedom Park.

Mr. Hun Sen’s government then suspended the constitutional right to freedom of assembly, which experts say is illegal. Since then, civilian district security guards have beaten and detained activists as they continue to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Thursday that it was inappropriate for members of the armed forces to threaten to defend a political party in a dispute over the legitimacy of a national election.

“The government created by the illegal National Assembly is illegal, and troops that serve the illegal government are also illegal,” Mr. Sovann said.

“The armed forces do not only belong to Tea Banh and the Cambodian People’s Party, as the armed forces receive their salaries from the labor of the people.”

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