Phnom Penh - Cambodia's strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday said the country risks civil war if the opposition wins polls later in 2013 and tries to prosecute ex-Khmer Rouge members in his government.
His comments were issued as a rebuke to opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has pledged to convict unnamed members of the government over their alleged roles under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime if his party takes July's election.
“For sure, (civil) war will erupt if they (the opposition party) win the election,” Hun Sen, 62, said in a speech broadcast on national radio.
“He (Rainsy) has not won power, yet he announced that the members of the ruling government will be brought to trial. Problems will happen like during Pol Pot's regime,” he warned, adding that “nobody will be waiting to be arrested”.
Hun Sen, himself a former member of the Khmer Rouge, said those who want peace and development in the kingdom should vote for his ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
His main rival Rainsy, heads the the recently-formed Cambodia National Rescue Party, but lives in self-imposed exile in France to avoid prison for a string of convictions that critics contend are politically motivated.
According to local press reports the 63-year-old on Wednesday used a video address to vow to convict senior officials accused of atrocities under the Khmer Rouge, alleging they are impeding a much-delayed UN-backed war crimes trial.
“We could (can) not give up on justice,” Rainsy was quoted as saying by the Cambodia Daily on Thursday.
“The ministers and deputy prime ministers who were members of the Khmer Rouge are now working in the current government, and they are hindering the trial,” he said of the tribunal which has two elderly defendants in the dock.
In November, the National Election Committee (NEC) said Rainsy could not stand in the polls because of his convictions.
His party has only a slim chance of gaining enough votes to oust Hun Sen, who has ruled the country since 1985 and has vowed to stay in power until he is 90.
Rainsy has previously branded Hun Sen a “coward” for barring him from running in the election and accused the incumbent of using the NEC to block his bid for office - something the premier has repeatedly denied.
French-educated Rainsy is one of the most outspoken figures in Cambodian politics but has lived in self-imposed exile since 2009, facing a total of 11 years in prison over several charges if he returns.
He has repeatedly expressed confidence his party could end Hun Sen's 28-year grip on power.
Led by “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the regime wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia during their 1975-79 rule.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly voiced his objection to further trials, saying they could plunge the country into civil war. - Sapa-AFP