PHNOM PENH Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday reiterated a warning that war could break out in the Southeast Asian country if his ruling party loses local elections next month and a general election next year.
Local elections set for June 4 could be a springboard for the general election, which is seen as the biggest challenge Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has faced in nearly four decades.
In a three-hour speech to Cambodia's Christian community in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen, who has vowed to stay on after more than three decades in power, said an opposition win would lead to bloodshed if his family members were targeted by critics.
"War will happen if the CPP loses control," the strongman said, adding that he had ordered troops to crack down on any protests against election results.
Referring to his opponents, he said, "They said they would destroy the Hun family first. If the Hun family is destroyed, Hun Sen's supporters will not stay still."
Hun Sen's rival, opposition leader Kem Sokha, has repeatedly said there will be no upheaval if his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party wins.
"A CNRP win will bring security to all of us, including for the winners and losers," Kem Sokha told a campaign rally in Siem Reap, 320 km (199 miles) north of Phnom Penh, the capital.
"When the CNRP wins, there will real justice, peace and developments for all, the CNRP won't regard anyone as an enemy."
Hun Sen, however, took a more ominous view.
"No guns are needed to cause war ... words can cause war if the CPP loses patience and go to your homes and burn down your homes," Hun Sen said.
He warned critics not to test him through the use of force, pointing out that a royalist party was destroyed following a bloody coup in the 1990s.
"The only solution is that the CPP must win elections at all stages," he said, telling the opposition party to accept future election results.
Hun Sen on Thursday refused to meet foreign ambassadors who had planned to ask him about Cambodia's political situation.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez)