The government has deemed Sam Rainsy’s planned return to the Kingdom tomorrow as a coup attempt. Rainsy’s possible return is a topic commonly discussed by Cambodians as the day approaches. Khmer Times Chief Operating Officer Kay Kimsong sat with government spokesman Phay Siphan, former CNRP official Meach Sovannara and political analyst Lao Mong Hay to hear what they have to say about Rainsy.
KT: November 9 is the day to commemorate Cambodian heroes, especially the late King Sihanouk. But this year, it is obviously different because Sam Rainsy declared he would return to Cambodia. What do each of you think could happen on that day?
Mr Siphan: November 9 this year has been set to be “Ambok-Eating Day” to symbolise the protection of the nation, religion and the King. Meanwhile, there have been military exercises by [the armed forces] and police to promote security on Independence Day as well as during the upcoming Water Festival.
Every one of us knows that there is now a psychological war which includes the repeated declaration that Rainsy is coming back to lead a movement to overthrow a legitimate government born out of an election. We have to prepare to arrest those rebels and bring them to court. The event [Rainsy’s return] is bringing mixtures of feelings to the people, but on behalf of the government, I would like to inform the public not to be worried or intimidated [because] we have enough capability to maintain public order and preserve the peace.
Mr Mong Hay: I am very sorry to hear that an important holiday is being used to reflect on national polarlisation. The Independence Day should be about unity and nationhood. The military exercise should be conducted to show our ability to protect the nation and territory. But, for now, I think that the government can cope with the situation effectively so the people can enjoy the holiday as usual. Nothing bad could happen on that day.
Mr Sovannara: In the past few days, I have noticed many people seem to forget that November 9 is a historic date. They have been talking about going back to their hometowns while usually people in the provinces visit Phnom Penh during this time of the year. People are suffering from fear. Some people have been even afraid that there would be armed conflict like on July 5-6, 1997. The government should show them through the media, including the state-run AKP, that the society is now stable to reduce the fear.
KT: What do you think about Rainsy’s plan on returning to Cambodia that day? And why has he chosen November 9?
Mr Mong Hay: According to Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page, he chooses to come back to Cambodia on November 9 because it is also the day which saw the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It symbolises the failure of communism.
Mr Siphan: Until today Sam Rainsy still calls on the people to overthrow a regime born out of the constitution and election. Rainsy himself said he had the money to hire the army to change the regime, that’s why we have to show our superior military power. We do not want a regime to be removed by violence. We have to remember the lesson in 1970. Samdech Techo Hun Sen had survived many assassination attempts, the latest being in Siem Reap. We do not want any chaos that can affect our country’s peace and stability.
Rainsy choosing November 9 is a part of his psychological warfare. On that day, hundreds of thousands of people will come to Phnom Penh to celebrate the Water Festival. Rainsy wants to transform their arrivals into chaos for his benefit. However, we have [deployed] 20,000 police and military officers to maintain order and stability for the people. The government wants people to be happy while Sam Rainsy wants people to be in misery.
Mr Sovannara: I respect the constitution and follow a non-violence principle. The latter had been upheld by the late CNRP. I only support if he comes and tries to settle the problem peacefully. But it would unacceptable if he comes and tries to stir up violence. The government maintains peace and security as a country with the rule of law, but I cannot say how Rainsy is going to enter the country.
KT: Recently, Cambodian troops were deployed along the country’s border to “wait to destroy the rebels” amid the return of many Cambodian migrant workers. What can you say about that?
Mr Mong Hay: I think how the government responds to Sam Rainsy’s return has gone too far. It does not match with the power of Rainsy and his kinsmen. Legally, Rainsy was a wanted convict. If he comes back, the police can arrest him. And why did we need other Asean countries to help arrest a convict? Recently, the government issued a ban on all airlines to not to transport him into the country. I don’t understand whether [the government] wants to arrest him or keep him out of [neighbouring] countries. Why does it need to spend money on military deployment? Where can Sam Rainsy gather troops to attack the government?
Mr Siphan: The government’s obligation is to look from every angle. We deployed the troops along the border to protect the nation while the internal forces are to protect national security. We have to protect [the country] against any sort of incidents. This is a precautionary measure taken by the government to prevent any complication and guarantee peace and stability, and we have enough capability and capacity to do that. We just informed the people not to be worried. Are we afraid? No we are not, but we have to do whatever we can in accordance with the law and the constitution. We cannot predict any incident, but we have to protect the national security.
The army and the police are prepared to arrest him [Rainsy] and bring him to court. If there was a riot or something similar, we have to crack down. Rainsy wants to come through Thailand into Cambodia, but now he seems to have failed to do so. He may fly to one of the other countries [in Southeast Asia] such as Indonesia, and then fly back to where he’s from, and afterward bring it up as an excuse for not entering Cambodia to keep support coming.
Mr Sovannara: Mr Sovannara: Cambodian workers coming back to their country and visiting their families during the holiday is normal unless they will do something against the law. From talking with them, I have learned some of them just come to enjoy the festival season while some say they are here to receive Sam Rainsy. But, I can still believe that every problem can be solved peacefully.