Rainsy’s return: Exiled opposition leader rattles Cambodian rule

Published November 7, 2019, 3:03 PM

by Rica Arevalo

By EFE-EPA

Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader is readying for his promised return to the country this weekend as the Southeast Asian nation’s government ramps up extraordinary efforts to stop him.

Self-exiled former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 15, 2018. (EPA-EFE FILE / MICK TSIKAS / MANILA BULLETIN)
Self-exiled former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 15, 2018. (EPA-EFE FILE / MICK TSIKAS / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sam Rainsy, co-founder of the Supreme-Court dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, is on Thursday due to board a flight from Paris, France, to the Thai capital Bangkok – a return he announced in August to reverse “authoritarianism” and “re-establish democracy in the face of blind power.”

“I will depart from Paris on Thursday November 7. I will arrive in Bangkok on Friday November 8 to be ready to enter Cambodia on Saturday November 9,” Rainsy confirmed on Twitter Wednesday. Saturday is also the country’s Independence Day.

The plan of Rainsy and other members to enter Cambodia has raised the ire of strongman Hun Sen — the world’s longest-serving prime minister who has ruled the country since 1985 — as well as his government, which sees it as a coup plot. The leader has frequently spoken out about the return, calling for the arrest of the “traitors.”

While past threats by Rainsy to return to the country have not materialized, Cambodian-American political analyst Ear Sophal told EFE that this is “as close as it has been in four years.”

“People are tired of his bluffs, but at the same time the actions of Phnom Penh suggest they are not taking this like a joke. They believe it really could happen and have given the green light for police to do whatever it takes,” he added.

But Rainsy’s return will not be easy.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha told reporters Wednesday that Rainsy would not be allowed to enter the country.

Referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ principle of non-interference, he said: “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.”

“I have ordered this, so he probably won’t get in,” Prayut added.

Thailand’s Deputy Director of Immigration Division 2, Ketchakat Nilpradab, told EFE that authorities were watching to see if Rainsy boards his plane in Paris and that he may be deported on arrival.

In Jakarta on Wednesday, the Cambodian ambassador to Indonesia, Hor Nambora, attempted to block CNRP member Mu Sochua’s press conference, and shortly after, the embassy issued a statement calling for her arrest.

Mu Sochua herself was refused entry to Thailand on Oct. 20 when she arrived on a flight from Kuala Lumpur.

Rainsy left the country in 2015 to avoid jail for defamation and other legal challenges against him. From his base in Paris, he has been garnering support for his return through an active social media campaign.

One week ago, he released a video on his Facebook page saying: “This may be the first time and the last time that you see me alive as a free man.”

“Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is known as a brutal dictator, has vowed to arrest me and ordered the armed forces to destroy what he calls the rebels that I will be leading peacefully back to our country,” he said, adding that he is “prepared to sacrifice (his) freedom and even (his) life to give democracy a chance.”

Phnom Penh has gone to great lengths to prevent the return of Rainsy and fellow exiled CNRP members.

Moves have included sending troops and “wanted” posters of members to border areas, ordering airlines not to ferry in CNRP members, asking all ASEAN member countries to arrest Rainsy, calling on the Thai authorities to prevent supporters amassing at the border, and launching a widespread crackdown on supporters.

Amnesty International on Tuesday said that since August, “at least 41 former CNRP members have been jailed and 88 have been subject to politically-motivated charges including ‘plotting against the state’ and ‘attack’ for allegedly supporting the return to Cambodia of CNRP leaders living abroad.”

Hun Sen tightened his grip on the country in 2017 after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, considered the only real threat to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party ahead of the 2018 elections. The CPP subsequently won all available parliamentary seats, effectively making the country a one-party state.

CNRP co-founder Kem Sokha was arrested for treason on Sep. 4, 2017, which – similarly to Rainsy’s charges – is also widely seen as being politically motivated. After a year in pre-trial detention, he was released on bail last September and placed under house arrest, where he remains.

Analyst Ear Sophal said that now, Cambodian authorities “seem more afraid of their own shadows than ever before.”

“Sam Rainsy seems to be hiding behind every bush and underneath every rock. There are three million proxies of Sam Rainsy. These are the people who voted for CNRP. They’re in Cambodia right now,” he added.

But what if Rainsy doesn’t show up or cannot get near his country? Will his supporters, who risk their freedom for the cause, abandon him?

“He will still get an A for effort as long as he gets close. His supporters are the supporters of an idea: the end of autocracy. They want change.”

 
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Rainsy’s return: Exiled opposition leader rattles Cambodian rule

Published November 7, 2019, 7:03 AM

by EFE-EPA

Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader is readying for his promised return to the country this weekend as the Southeast Asian nation’s government ramps up extraordinary efforts to stop him.

Self-exiled former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 15, 2018. (EPA-EFE FILE / MICK TSIKAS / MANILA BULLETIN)

Self-exiled former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 15, 2018. (EPA-EFE FILE / MICK TSIKAS / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sam Rainsy, co-founder of the Supreme-Court dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, is on Thursday due to board a flight from Paris, France, to the Thai capital Bangkok – a return he announced in August to reverse “authoritarianism” and “re-establish democracy in the face of blind power.”

“I will depart from Paris on Thursday November 7. I will arrive in Bangkok on Friday November 8 to be ready to enter Cambodia on Saturday November 9,” Rainsy confirmed on Twitter Wednesday. Saturday is also the country’s Independence Day.

The plan of Rainsy and other members to enter Cambodia has raised the ire of strongman Hun Sen — the world’s longest-serving prime minister who has ruled the country since 1985 — as well as his government, which sees it as a coup plot. The leader has frequently spoken out about the return, calling for the arrest of the “traitors.”

While past threats by Rainsy to return to the country have not materialized, Cambodian-American political analyst Ear Sophal told EFE that this is “as close as it has been in four years.”

“People are tired of his bluffs, but at the same time the actions of Phnom Penh suggest they are not taking this like a joke. They believe it really could happen and have given the green light for police to do whatever it takes,” he added.

But Rainsy’s return will not be easy.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha told reporters Wednesday that Rainsy would not be allowed to enter the country.

Referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ principle of non-interference, he said: “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.”

“I have ordered this, so he probably won’t get in,” Prayut added.

Thailand’s Deputy Director of Immigration Division 2, Ketchakat Nilpradab, told EFE that authorities were watching to see if Rainsy boards his plane in Paris and that he may be deported on arrival.

In Jakarta on Wednesday, the Cambodian ambassador to Indonesia, Hor Nambora, attempted to block CNRP member Mu Sochua’s press conference, and shortly after, the embassy issued a statement calling for her arrest.

Mu Sochua herself was refused entry to Thailand on Oct. 20 when she arrived on a flight from Kuala Lumpur.

Rainsy left the country in 2015 to avoid jail for defamation and other legal challenges against him. From his base in Paris, he has been garnering support for his return through an active social media campaign.

One week ago, he released a video on his Facebook page saying: “This may be the first time and the last time that you see me alive as a free man.”

“Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is known as a brutal dictator, has vowed to arrest me and ordered the armed forces to destroy what he calls the rebels that I will be leading peacefully back to our country,” he said, adding that he is “prepared to sacrifice (his) freedom and even (his) life to give democracy a chance.”

Phnom Penh has gone to great lengths to prevent the return of Rainsy and fellow exiled CNRP members.

Moves have included sending troops and “wanted” posters of members to border areas, ordering airlines not to ferry in CNRP members, asking all ASEAN member countries to arrest Rainsy, calling on the Thai authorities to prevent supporters amassing at the border, and launching a widespread crackdown on supporters.

Amnesty International on Tuesday said that since August, “at least 41 former CNRP members have been jailed and 88 have been subject to politically-motivated charges including ‘plotting against the state’ and ‘attack’ for allegedly supporting the return to Cambodia of CNRP leaders living abroad.”

Hun Sen tightened his grip on the country in 2017 after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, considered the only real threat to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party ahead of the 2018 elections. The CPP subsequently won all available parliamentary seats, effectively making the country a one-party state.

CNRP co-founder Kem Sokha was arrested for treason on Sep. 4, 2017, which – similarly to Rainsy’s charges – is also widely seen as being politically motivated. After a year in pre-trial detention, he was released on bail last September and placed under house arrest, where he remains.

Analyst Ear Sophal said that now, Cambodian authorities “seem more afraid of their own shadows than ever before.”

“Sam Rainsy seems to be hiding behind every bush and underneath every rock. There are three million proxies of Sam Rainsy. These are the people who voted for CNRP. They’re in Cambodia right now,” he added.

But what if Rainsy doesn’t show up or cannot get near his country? Will his supporters, who risk their freedom for the cause, abandon him?

“He will still get an A for effort as long as he gets close. His supporters are the supporters of an idea: the end of autocracy. They want change.”

 
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