Kem Sokha: Cambodian opposition leader freed from house arrest

Clay Curtis
November 10, 2019

Sam Rainsy, founder and former head of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, had said he would return on Saturday.

Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the Geneva also issued a statement on Friday calling Rhona Smith's comments "unbalanced and misleading", saying that actions taken by the authorities against "wrongful deeds ... can not be construed as [a] political crackdown".

Prior to the Supreme Court-ordered dissolution in November 2017, it was the sole opposition party in the National Assembly, with 55 seats compared with 68 held by Hun Sen's CPP.

Sar Kheng, the interior minister and deputy prime minister, announced the shift in the government's stand on his Facebook page on Saturday.

Sar Kheng, calling Sam Rainsy a culprit and a convict, said "As of now, there is not any announcement by the Cambodian government to bar culprit Sam Rainsy and his colleagues from entering the country". It came shortly after Sam Rainsy arrived by air in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, with virtually no chance of meeting his self-imposed deadline of returning to Cambodia by Saturday. "But it is only a small step toward the right direction", Rainsy told Reuters in Malaysia.

Speaking to VOA Saturday afternoon by phone from Thailand, Pon Saory, general secretary of the CNRP overseas section, who is in close contact with Rainsy, said it was unlikely Rainsy would make it back to Cambodia that day.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, he refused to disclose his plans but said, "I will go back home, it is my right, it is my duty".

"Kem Sokha's release from house detention is a last minute attempt to deflect European anger", said Phil Robertson of USA -based Human Rights Watch.

Rainsy on Thursday had been blocked from boarding a Thai Airways plane from Paris to Bangkok. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, chanting the mantra of Asean non-interference, made clear the opposition figure would not be allowed into Thailand.

He faces arrest and detention in Cambodia. Traffic to the checkpoint as well as across the border was limited, with Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand reportedly barred from entry.

It also informed Cambodia's neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations of its position, leading at least one, Malaysia, this past week to temporarily detain the deputy leader of the opposition party, Mu Sochua, and two junior party members. She issued a call on Friday for her compatriots in Cambodia to take to the streets on Saturday.

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"If he comes to cause instability and chaos, we will destroy him", he told Reuters.

He said it was fine if the Cambodian politicians had wanted to meet Malaysian leaders during their time here.

Cambodians were prohibited from crossing from Poipet to shop in the Rong Klua market in Thailand, effectively shutting down the normally bustling exchange in Sa Kaeo province, according to a Thai Rath report.

Cambodian immigration officials also met with Thai soldiers on Saturday.

"On behalf of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, I urge... the worldwide community to increase pressure", he said.

Sam Rainsy fled Cambodia four years ago following a conviction for criminal defamation. He and several colleagues also face charges of armed rebellion for their return plan, which could earn them jail terms of 15-30 years.

"Arrests based on exercising the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, through political discourse and commenting on public affairs are not permitted", Smith said.

"PM Hun Sen looks foolish and paranoid by ordering thousands of police and army troops to patrol about with armored cars and heavy weapons", he told VOA.

"Nothing can be refuted concerning Rainsy's return, which he repeated numerous times, and that he had incited people to support him - both locally and internationally", he said.

Self-exiled Cambodian opposition leader Mu Sochua, who is Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) vice-president, was detained upon arrival at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang just before midnight on Wednesday, but was released the next day.

Dozens of activists have been rounded up in recent weeks in Cambodia while the authoritarian leader has called on neighboring countries to help thwart the opposition's attempts to return for what he has described as an attempted coup.

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