As Interior Minister Sar Kheng embarks on a “private” trip to France, Cambodia’s outlawed opposition is raising hopes of a meeting with the minister whom it routinely raises as a supposedly democracy-friendly foil to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Deputy Prime Minister Kheng’s staff issued a statement on Sunday that with Hun Sen’s approval he was traveling to France for two weeks from Sunday through September 5.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Phat Sophanit said Kheng’s visit was for personal matters, and brushed off the opposition’s hopes for a meeting.
“The trip to the French Republic is a private matter of samdech krala hom and is not related to anything else,” Sophanit said.
The main opposition CNRP was dissolved and outlawed in 2017, 118 senior members were banned from politics for five years, and several top officials now live in exile overseas.
The CNRP’s provocative co-founder Sam Rainsy, living in France, has at times openly suggested that Kheng opposes Hun Sen. Kheng has been posited as a “moderate” alternative to Hun Sen since as early as 1997, and the CNRP at one point said they would keep him on as deputy prime minister if the opposition won an election. Kheng has repeatedly rebuffed the CNRP’s portrayal of him as a potential ally.
Men Sothavarin, a former CNRP lawmaker from Kampong Thom and Siem Reap who is close to Rainsy, said he had informed Rainsy of Kheng’s visit to France, but Rainsy was in the U.S.
He said the opposition hoped for a meeting with Kheng.
“Yes, clearly, and maybe because we are the same Khmer. On the part of the CNRP, especially president Sam Rainsy, he has no vengeance at all. He cares about his people,” Sothavarin said. “There are only Khmers, and Khmers should have negotiations for our nation.”
Pa Chanroeun, director of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said the opposition’s hopes at least signaled there was some desire for compromise.
“Some people seem to be hungry and want the politicians from the two poles to reach out to each other in order to lead a dialogue, compromise and reconciliation with each other, to help lead and solve the social problems that we are facing now and in the future. This is a good sign.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)