Some international airlines said this week that they had not been warned against bringing exiled senior opposition leaders back into the country, seemingly contradicting earlier statements by the Cambodian government.
Chea Aun, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Secretariat, said earlier this week that all 47 airlines servicing the country had been briefed in a meeting at the secretariat last Friday that bringing CNRP acting president Sam Rainsy into the country “would become a crime of conspiracy.”
Rainsy, who has promised a November 9 homecoming but failed to board a flight from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday, faces several court cases against him, including a charge of “attack,” or commissioning acts of violence against state institutions.
At least 40 airlines operate flights directly into Cambodia, according to schedules posted online by Cambodia Airports. More than 14 other carriers sell joint-operation flight, or codeshare, tickets into the country.
Most airlines did not respond to repeated requests this week for confirmation that they had received communications from the Cambodian government.
Among those that responded, Singapore Airlines, which runs both Singapore Airlines and SilkAir flights to Cambodia, denied that the government had warned them against bringing Rainsy and other opposition leaders to the country.
“We have not received any official notification,” an airline spokesperson said by email.
Austrian Airlines spokesman Leonhard Steinmann said that as a mere codeshare partner for Bangkok Airways flights to Cambodia, the company had no presence in the country and had no contact with the government.
“Thus we were not notified in this meeting — which wouldn’t make sense anyway,” Steinmann said.
AirAsia, meanwhile, would say only that it “remains compliant with the laws and regulations of the markets in which we operate.”
Others, such as Lanmei, Shandong and Sichuan airlines, said it was their general policy not to comment. Liza Ravenscroft, spokeswoman for British Airways — codeshare partners for Bangkok Airways and Qatar Airways flights to Cambodia — said the company was “unable to discuss arrangements for individual customers under privacy laws.” She did not respond when asked if the company had any communications at all with the Cambodian government in the past week.
None of more than 50 airlines approached by VOD by email confirmed the Cambodian government’s message as of Friday afternoon.
Aun, from the Civil Aviation Secretariat, could not be reached on Friday.
Earlier in the week, Aun said his message to airlines was that flying Rainsy into the country would be akin to bringing a thief into someone else’s house.
“We reminded them that like in other countries, how could you carry thieves? We were afraid that they did not know, and so we just let them know,” Aun said. “If they are careless, it will become their business and this would become a crime of conspiracy. If you know someone is a thief, why would you still carry him into somebody else’s house?”
The government has called Rainsy’s pledged return a coup attempt, and has arrested dozens of CNRP supporters and deployed troops to the country’s borders.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging the Cambodian government to allow Rainsy and other CNRP leaders back into the country to “freely resume political activities.”
“It’s ridiculous that the Cambodian government is treating a political party that has always engaged in nonviolence as a military threat,” the New York-based group’s Asia director Brad Adams said. “Sam Rainsy and other opposition leaders have the right under international law to return home and engage in peaceful political activities.”
Additional reporting by Hun Sirivadh