Phnom Penh - The deputy head of Cambodia's armed forces has accused the country's exiled opposition leader of conspiring with Thailand to destabilise the nation, national media reported Wednesday.
General Chea Dara, who is posted at the flashpoint Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian-Thai border, made the allegations in a two-hour speech to a crowd of 1,000 students and government officials in Phnom Penh, the Cambodia Daily newspaper reported.
"The betraying opposition party leader Sam Rainsy has colluded with Thailand and sold himself to Thailand to let Thais invade Cambodia," Chea Dara was quoted as saying.
Chea Dara was referring to events in mid-2008 as tensions rose at Preah Vihear after the 11th-century temple was registered by the UN cultural body UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. That move angered some Thai nationalists who claim the temple for Thailand.
The general's comments came two weeks after a court in Phnom Penh formally charged Sam Rainsy with falsifying public documents and spreading disinformation in an ongoing argument with the Cambodian government over the border demarcation process under way between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Those charges could see him jailed for 18 years and would add to the two-year sentence he received late last year in a related border dispute with Vietnam.
Sam Rainsy, who is in France in self-imposed exile, was sentenced in absentia after he removed wooden posts marking the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. The opposition had claimed the posts were intruding into Cambodian territory and costing farmers their land.
Vietnam is a key investor in Cambodia with significant interests in agribusiness, aviation, telecommunications and banking and an important political ally of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
An opposition party spokesman rejected the general's comments wholesale and said under Cambodian law the military must stay out of politics. Yim Sovann told the newspaper that Sam Rainsy's loyalties were to the Cambodian people and were beyond question.
"Please do not serve any political party," Yim Sovann said, referring to the military. "Otherwise, democracy in Cambodia will be jeopardized."
Chea Dara's comments came on the 13th anniversary of a grenade attack at an opposition gathering in Phnom Penh, which killed 16 people. Sam Rainsy was injured in the attack, which killed his bodyguard.
The attack was widely blamed on forces loyal to current Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who at the time was in an increasingly unstable coalition with the royalist party.