Armed forces chief Gen Vong Pisen warns that “extremists” will be “eliminated” if they cause social unrest in next year’s national elections

The commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), General Vong Pisen, has vowed to “eliminate extremist groups” if they cause “social unrest” during next year’s general election.

However, this was interpreted as a “threat” and “intimidation” by some opposition parties, but was fiercely denied by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

During yesterday’s 29th anniversary of the National Military Police in Kampong Chhnang province, General Pisen, who represented Defense Minister General Tea Banh at the event, said the army was determined to eliminate any group that seeks to destroy the peace.

He stressed that Cambodia has enjoyed peace and national development under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“In the light of peace, Cambodia has achieved great and positive changes, achieved high and sustained economic growth for more than two decades, and improved people’s lives, security and social order have also improved.

“Therefore, the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces, which are the backbone of the nation, must immediately stop at all costs all attempts at a ‘color revolution’ and extremist groups trying to cause social unrest.”

“We will protect the peace, protect the legitimate government, protect the constitution,” he said.

General Pisen recalled the “heroism” of Mr. Hun Sen, who used his life as “capital” to flee to Vietnam in 1977 to enlist the help of the Vietnamese Communist Party to defeat Pol Pot’s democratic Kampuchea regime in 1979 overthrow.

He also commended Mr. Hun Sen’s win-win policy, which successfully dismantled the political organization of the Khmer Rouge and integrated it into the social, economic and political life of the Cambodian state in 1998, ending Cambodia’s three-decade-long civil war.

General Pisen urged the armed forces to be honest and strictly carry out the orders of the heads of government, the Ministry of Defense and the RCAF’s commander-in-chief.

“Cooperate with relevant authorities to collect all information related to illegal activities for timely prevention and crackdown,” he urged.

Although General Pisen did not name the “extremist groups” who allegedly tried to overthrow the government through a “color revolution” or “social unrest,” he appeared to be referring to ex-opposition leaders living in exile.

In recent years, the government has claimed that former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy attempted to overthrow the CPP through both a “color revolution” and an attempted coup.

Rainsy had vowed to return to the kingdom on November 9, 2019 to restore democracy and human rights. However, the government saw this as a move to stage a rebellion and accused Rainsy and his allies of plotting a coup that resulted in Rainsy’s planned return failing to materialize.

Rainsy, who lives in exile in Paris, has repeatedly announced that he will return to the kingdom to remove what he called a “treacherous regime” led by Mr Hun Sen.

Rainsy had often encouraged people to protest against Mr Hun Sen and called on the armed forces not to shoot at protesters, but to turn their guns against the government.

Kem Sokha, co-founder of the judicially dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is now on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the government through a “color revolution”.

Ahead of the 2017 local elections, Defense Secretary General Tea Banh also threatened to “break in the teeth” of political opponents who want to demonstrate against the results of the local elections.

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RCAF Commander-in-Chief General Vong Pisen addresses his troops during the 29th anniversary of military police in Kampong Chhnang province. AKP

“If they lose, but don’t accept that loss and come up with this or that demand – maybe we’ll break their teeth in soon,” he said at the time, calling on people to vote for the CPP.

Lee Sothearayuth, general secretary of the Candlelight Party (CP), a faction of the defunct CNRP, yesterday called on the army to be “neutral” on political parties.

He also views General Pisen’s remarks as threats and intimidation.

“In fact, it’s a sign of intimidation and threat, more or less it will affect people’s feelings,” he said.

“As the army commander, he should not favor any side, be it the ruling party or the opposition, he should be neutral,” he added.

However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan expressed his support for Gen Pisen’s involvement, saying the army has a duty to protect the legitimate government.

“It’s not about threats or intimidation, the army has to provide security and ensure public order. Only those with bad intentions will feel threatened,” he said.

“The army belongs to the nation, so it has a role to play in protecting the nation and the government that emerges from an election,” he added.

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