Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy has told the world to ignore the arrest warrants for “plotting to commit treason” and “incitement” issued for himself and seven other officials from the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Paris since November 2015 since a seemingly forgotten and years-old prison sentence was suddenly reignited by the courts, has made wavering pledges to return to Cambodia sometime this year in an effort to help release his successor, Kem Sokha, from house arrest.
On March 12, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a new arrest warrant for the CNRP co-founder and seven other opposition officials who now live abroad and were allegedly part of a special committee planning his return: Mu Sochua, Eng Chhai Eang, Ho Vann, Men Sothavrin, Tok Vanchan, Long Ry and Ou Chanrith.
Rainsy said the international community should not take the warrants seriously.
“I call on the governments of countries who are friendly with #Cambodia, and especially those countries that respect democratic principles and human rights, to disregard the arrest warrants against the eight leaders of the Cambodian opposition,” Rainsy wrote in a message on his Twitter account on April 6.
Sochua, a deputy leader of the CNRP and one of the seven officials ordered arrested, said the issuing of the warrants only revealed the true nature of Cambodia’s courts.
“All the arrest warrants were issued by the courts that are Hun Sen’s political tools,” Sochua said, denying the officials plotted treason. “Our goal is the return of Sam Rainsy to promote democracy and the release of [CNRP] leader Kem Sokha. We organize carefully, and do not use violence or impact the national interest.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen last month warned Rainsy that he may risk being attacked by machine gun fire if he attempted to return to Cambodia over a land border while gathering crowds of CNRP supporters to prevent authorities making an arrest.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said he believed the appeal Rainsy had made online would receive little interest from the world and called on him to return to face trial. The former opposition leader is facing more than half a dozen sentences or pending criminal cases imposed since he fled the country in November 2015.
“He is always shouting to this or that person but it is useless and has no influence on the courts,” Malin said. “The important thing is he must defend himself before the law if he’s innocent and has no links to the offense he was charged with.”
Rainsy had initially pledged in a rousing speech to Cambodian migrant workers in South Korea to return to the country and stare down the surprised arrest order issued against him in November 2015 but later decided against the return.
Later, he promised to return to the country before the July 2018 national election — apparently planning a reprisal of his celebrated return before the 2013 vote.
Then last year, he made an unconventional public wager with Hun Sen to return to Cambodia and face his prison sentences if Sokha, his successor, was not freed from house arrest by March 3. But in the closing weeks he backed down on the bet.
Ly Srey Sros, a prominent young political analyst, said that she believed Rainsy was facing a tough situation having both promised to return to Cambodia in 2019 in order to revive the opposition but also being threatened by the government.
But by repeatedly failing to follow through on promises to return, he was eroding his credibility, she said.
“If Sam Rainsy fails to return to the country this time, I think in the future his political life may face difficulties in competing with the ruling party,” Srey Sros said, adding that the government could also show good faith by easing his return.
Europe and the U.S. are threatening to reimpose tariffs on Cambodian exports if Hun Sen’s government does not improve the political and rights situation.
“If Sam Rainsy has a good strategy and is able to return, it will mean that we can resolve some of what has gotten stuck and then we will know if it is the will of the government in Phnom Penh to resolve these issues or not,” Srey Sros said.
(Edited and translated from the original article on VOD Khmer)