Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy lands in Malaysia, says report

Cheryl Sanders
November 10, 2019

Cambodia freed opposition leader Kem Sokha from house arrest on Sunday (Nov 10), more than two years after he was arrested and charged with treason, but the charges remain and he is banned from politics and from leaving the country.

Cambodia's exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy arrived in Malaysia Saturday as he sought to get home to rally his supporters against strongman Hun Sen, while security was ramped up at the kingdom's borders and in Phnom Penh.

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

Saory Pon called on the government to drop all charges against Kem Sokha and acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy, as well as against all other opposition supporters who had been arrested for their political activism, and to lift the ban on 118 opposition members to allow them to return to politics.

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

He was to take a flight from Paris to Thailand, which has a border with Cambodia.

Shortly after his announcement, tensions escalated in the country, with many opposition supporters either arrested or seemingly pressured to "confess" to crimes or to openly denounce the CNRP.

Sam Rainsy told reporters at the airport he had been invited to meet Malaysian parliamentarians on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

He told reporters that he would be in Malaysia for "a couple of days".

After arriving in Kuala Lumpur from the French capital, he did not say whether he still planned to go home. He said the opposition was "on the right track" and would "keep up the hope we will win".

But Sam Rainsy was blocked from boarding a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok in Paris on Thursday.

Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1985.

His freedom to hold meetings appeared to mark a rapid shift in stance from Malaysia, which earlier this week detained and later released the Cambodian opposition party's vice president, Mu Sochua, and two other officials. She issued a call on Friday for her compatriots in Cambodia to take to the streets on Saturday.

"They (Cambodian government) had requested to us to send them back to Cambodia, if they reach our country, " he said when met by Bernama after giving a group ceramah in conjunction with the Tanjung Piai Parliamentary by-election at a house in Kampun Teluk Kerang, near here last night.

"When he comes to trigger uncertainty and chaos, we'll ruin him", he told Reuters.

In the capital, Phnom Penh, security forces patrolled in pickup trucks during celebrations for the 66th anniversary of independence from France. During the day, hundreds of security personnel blocked the Poipet global border crossing at the Thai border, and only selectively let people in.

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.

Thai officials promised they would not allow foreigners to use the country as a base for sedition.

Mr Sokha's political partner, Sam Rainsy - who also faces wide-ranging charges in Cambodia - said that he was barred from returning from self-imposed exile in Paris on Saturday.

Sam Rainsy faces 18 years in prison from earlier court rulings.

Hun Sen, 67, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled the country of 16 million for more than 34 years with an iron hand and a wily ability to play off his opponents against each other and sow division among them.

But Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, has vowed to bar him and other exiled figures from his party - which was outlawed ahead of much-criticized elections previous year.

Other reports by iNewsToday