Cambodia’s armed forces belong to the country’s ruling party and must prevent a “color revolution” from overtaking the Southeast Asian nation, a four-star general said Wednesday, drawing criticism from an opposition official who called his understanding of the military’s role “limited.”
The armed forces must serve Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) because he cares for and leads them, General Chea Dara told military commanders, government officials and members of the private sector outside of Hun Sen’s office in the capital Phnom Penh, known as the Peace Palace.
“Every soldier is a member of the People’s Army and belongs to the CPP because Samdech Decho [Hun Sen] is the feeder, caretaker, commander and leader of the army,” said Chea Dara, who is among several high-ranking military officers recently incorporated into the CPP’s Central Committee.
“I speak frankly when I say that the army belongs to the Cambodia People’s Party.”
Chea Dara also warned that any attempt by the public to start a color revolution—named after a series of popular movements that used passive resistance to topple governments in countries under the former Soviet Union during the 2000s—would be suppressed by the army.
“Any kind of color revolution absolutely must not happen,” he said.
“[We] don’t need to use any [rockets] or tanks to stop a revolution—we could shut it down using only batons. We are absolute on this. The army is determined [to preempt a revolution].”
Opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesman Yem Panhrith on Wednesday expressed concern over Chea Dara’s comments and called for reforms in the government’s executive branch to ensure a separation of military and state.
“It is very regretful that he seems to not understand what a national army is, what a prime minister is, and what the executive branch of government is,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“His understanding is clearly limited,” he said.
Political scientist Ros Ravuth told RFA that because the armed forces are paid through the national coffers, they must serve the nation.
He called on Chea Dara to publicly correct his statement, which he called “unconstitutional.”
“In fact, what he said is incorrect because the Cambodian armed forces and police forces belong to the nation and have duty to protect national sovereignty,” he said.
“They are not tasked with protecting any one political party.”
Ros Ravuth warned that if a national army aligns itself politically, it loses its neutrality, and such action could prompt a military coup if an opposition party wins future elections.
Calls for loyalty
Chea Dara’s comments are the latest to call for military loyalty to the government and suppression of color revolutions, following statements made yesterday by Minister of Defense Tea Banh and last week by Hun Sen.
According to the Phnom Penh Post, Tea Banh on Tuesday warned cadets completing training at a military base in southwestern Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province that the political situation in the country was changing rapidly, and that a revolution could break out at any time.
He drew parallels to civil society protests against the recently passed controversial Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), as well as opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) trips to sections of disputed territory along the border with Vietnam, and called organizers troublemakers.
“If they cannot get anything that benefits them, they claim this is not a democracy. If we cannot control democracy, it will become anarchy,” the Post quoted him saying.
He went on to say that the CNRP’s “attempt to create a color revolution … [was] putting society in turmoil,” but that the armed forces “will absolutely protect the legal government.”
Last week, Hun Sen also referred to the CNRP border visits in a speech to around 5,000 high-ranking military and police officials, and urged the armed forces to remain vigilant against color revolutions and show loyalty to the government, local media reported.
Despite public criticism over strong ties between Cambodia’s ruling party and its military, in March lawmakers passed the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly, parliament, which allows members of the armed forces to participate in election campaigns.
The law drew concerns from civil society groups who said it would allow security force members to act in a partisan and intimidating manner.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.