Khmer Times/May Titthara Thursday, 28 July 2016
A number of military vehicles were seen moving along National Road 6 into Phnom Penh yesterday morning, leaving many bystanders suspicious after a similar movement of tanks was witnessed before the funeral of assassinated government critic Kem Ley.
The Defense Ministry tried to quell any questions about the movement by saying it was customary for the military to move troops and equipment every three months. But bystanders and local residents expressed their fear and dismay throughout the day on Facebook at the ominous military moves.
A moto-taxi rider in Batheay district said he became suspicious when he saw many military trucks driving into Phnom Penh at about 6am yesterday.
“We asked each other whether any problems were happening in Phnom Penh, and rushed to check Facebook. But we didn’t see any problems in Phnom Penh besides talk about the number of people who were in Kem Ley’s procession,” he said.
The chaos of the political situation has added an element of suspicion to all government actions, he said, and the movement of troops and tanks around the same time as Mr. Ley’s murder was a curious decision to many.
“Will anything happen in the future from this troop movement? I hope nothing will happen,” he added.
“After seeing those military trucks, citizens and sellers in the market have different perspectives on whether it was to protect the security in Phnom Penh or bring it for something else. We were concerned, especially after Kem Ley’s death just happened and it’s nearly voting time.
“The soldiers should stay on the border to defend the country. Why do they need to send so many soldiers to Phnom Penh?”
Social Breaking News posted a minute-long video clip, which reached 220,000 views quickly, showing military vehicles driving northbound on National Road 6. The tag to the video said: “We do not yet know where they will be sent to.”
One commenter on the video wrote: “This is just to show their muscle and make other people afraid.”
Spokesman for the Defense Ministry Chhum Socheat said the troop movement was to “help the health of the troops after working on the front lines.” Troops in Phnom Penh were sent to the borders to replace them, he said.
“The troops’ movement is to switch the soldiers from the front line according to the program every three months. There is no difference. It is a normal situation that we have to take them to rest and save more power,” he said.
The government has been on high alert recently due to the death of Mr. Ley, widespread protests over the arrest and detention of civil society members and an announced coup plot by a low-ranking soldier.
For months, the government couched its violent response to Black Monday protests, which made clear that they were demonstrating because of the NGO workers who were being arrested, in a fear that protesters were attempting to start a “color revolution.”
The government constantly parroted the claim whenever asked about the protests, repeatedly mentioning the series of uprisings in former Soviet Union states during the early 2000s.
After the surprising attempted coup in Turkey on July 15 and the release of a video by a soldier claiming to be the head of a potential coup in Cambodia, the government went into an even higher state of alert.
A four-minute video clip, posted to YouTube and Facebook last week under the account name “Siem Reap Angkor,” showed a man who called himself “VP9” reading a statement announcing his plan for a coup d’etat against Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government.
The man said he wanted to “liberate” the country from the “dictatorial” regime of Mr. Hun Sen and called on the military and public institutions to join him in his plot.
“We, representing the Southwestern unit, would like to announce to every organization and ministry in the country to know that in the very near future, all forces should be ready to overthrow the authoritarian system led by the head of the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] Mr. Hun Sen and the Vietnamese communists. This unit does not recognize the current government,” the man in the video said.
Police and army officials said they had identified the man, but have not released his name or any information on their investigation into his activities.
But residents in Phnom Penh were wary of the military’s presence in the capital and continued to question the Defense Ministry’s reasons.
Senior coordinator at rights group Licadho Am Sam Ath said that whenever there is political tension, citizens begin seeing troops in Phnom Penh. He said it was a direct threat to Cambodian people because many here have lived through wars and have become fearful at the sight of tanks near their homes.
“We cannot accept the statement from the ministry spokesman when he mentioned that the troops’ movement happens every three months because we’ve never seen that before. The government should explain to the citizens clearly the reason why the soldiers were brought to Phnom Penh,” he said.
In October 2012, about 100 tanks and 40 armored trucks were sent to Cambodia from Ukraine. It was the largest military delivery in the country since the war officially ended.
Khmer Times/Ros Chanveasna Thursday, 28 July 2016 39 views