Cambodia’s ambassador to Indonesia on Wednesday interrupted a Jakarta press conference held by opposition vice-president Mu Sochua, who said the ambassador called her a “fugitive” and warned that Cambodian authorities would arrest her.
Ambassador Hor Nambora “made a big scene,” Sochua said, adding that he kept calling her a fugitive, although she was ultimately able to speak to the media.
Sochua said she ran into Nambora prior to the start of the press conference, in which she intended to share the plans of senior leaders of the outlawed opposition CNRP to return to Cambodia on Saturday.
Acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy in August announced he would return to the country on November 9, with goals including leading a “people-power” movement to force Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation and saving the country’s preferential trade agreement with the European Union, which has been under review over political and human rights concerns.
Cambodian officials have labeled the opposition’s actions an illegal coup attempt, and dozens have been arrested over their support.
According to Sochua, Nambora told her that Cambodian police were at the venue to arrest her, but she had a choice: either be arrested and sent to Cambodia, or go back to the U.S., where Sochua has citizenship.
“He was trying to fool me as if I didn’t know the law,” Sochua told VOD.
Nambora “denied what I had said, such as that we will return [to Cambodia] for peace and to find democracy, but he said we are going to overthrow the government,” she added.
Nambora could not be reached for comment on Wednesday and emailed questions to the Cambodian embassy in Jakarta were not answered.
The embassy issued a statement, however, requesting that Indonesian authorities arrest Sochua and “deport her to Cambodia immediately in the true spirit of ASEAN.”
Sochua was a “fugitive” who was wanted in Cambodia for the “Crime of Attack,” described in Cambodia’s Criminal Code as violent acts endangering government institutions.
In a letter dated Tuesday to the head of the Jakarta-based Kurawal Foundation, which hosted the press event, Nambora called Sochua a “fugitive from Cambodia” and said it would be inappropriate for the organization to host her.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said in the implementation of diplomatic policy, Cambodia cannot come to prevent any activity on Indonesian land outside its embassy compound.
“Cambodia can draft a letter to the Indonesian foreign minister and Indonesia can take action or not take action. It’s up to Indonesia as the host to make a decision, and when we intervene directly, it seems like we are the competent authority,” Sovannara said.
Sochua, Rainsy and numerous other CNRP leaders have been living abroad to avoid criminal convictions in Cambodia which they say are politically motivated. Since Rainsy’s promised homecoming was announced in August, more than 40 CNRP members and activists have been arrested, mostly in relation to their support for the party leaders’ campaign.
Some CNRP supporters have been beaten by unidentified attackers in broad daylight, while others have admitted to crimes in video recordings that the CNRP and rights groups have called forced confessions.
Despite being blocked from entering Thailand last month, Sochua said she still intended to enter Cambodia on Saturday alongside other CNRP leaders, supporters and Cambodian migrant workers.
“We know from our people who are talking to migrant workers in Thailand, thousands, thousands, have signed up already. They are going home,” she said.
“We have been labeled traitors,” she added. “We go home to face the law.”
Rainsy said in a Facebook post that he would depart on Thursday from Paris, where he has lived in self-exile since late 2015.
He would arrive in Bangkok on Friday to “be ready to enter Cambodia on Saturday,” the post said.
But Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Wednesday that his government was not likely to allow Rainsy to enter Thailand, Reuters reported.
“According to our commitment to ASEAN, we will not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, and we will not allow an anti-government person to use Thailand for activism,” Prayuth said.
“I have ordered this, so he probably won’t get in.”
Rainsy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Prayuth’s statement.