Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday issued a challenge to self-exiled Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Acting President Sam Rainsy, daring him to return to the country.
Sam Rainsy, who recently took the office of acting president of the now banned major opposition party last week vowed to return to Cambodia in 2019 to fight for democracy.
“I want to clear everything up with this person,” the prime minister said during a meeting of garment factory workers in Kandal province. “I have already ordered Civil Aviation to not ban this awful guy because we need to put him in handcuffs.”
“We’ve been trying to arrest this guy for a long time, and now he’s going to surrender. If you don’t come before March, you’re a dog!” Hun Sen said.
Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile for nearly three years to avoid a string of convictions by courts seen as tied to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, made the announcement that he would return to Cambodia before March 2019 at a public forum held on Dec. 16 for party supporters in Paris.
CNRP activists across Cambodia welcome Sam Rainsy’s announcement and many said they would risk their freedom to welcome the self-exiled politician upon his return.
Political analyst Kim Sok believes the prime minister’s threat is an attempt to prevent Sam Rainsy’s return.
“If Sam Rainsy returns to Cambodia, that’s an alarming situation for Hun Sen,” said Kim Sok.
He said if Sam Rainsy is arrested, Hun Sen will face more pressure, but if Hun Sen doesn’t arrest Sam Rainsy then his power will be challenged.
Meanwhile, the CNRP’s chief in Kampong Chhnang province Keo Thai said even though the prime minister is threatening Sam Rainsy, he would still support the CNRP. He also said that he would lead his supporters to welcome Sam Rainsy upon his arrival in country.
“I am committed to the revival of Cambodia’s democracy,” Keo Thai said. “As long as there is no democracy, I will continue my work for the sake of the democracy-loving Cambodian people”
Hun Sen on Wednesday also said that former CNRP commune councilors would not be allowed to resume the positions, to which they had been elected in local elections in 2017. He urged the former officials of the banned party to instead find other means of making a living.
The prime minister then praised CNRP defectors who joined his Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), saying they would be allowed to continue in their positions until the end of their terms, and could run again as CPP candidates in 2020.
“Don’t dream of returning to your [former CNRP] positions,” he said.
Hun Sen also said he is working to create more rural CPP positions to encourage more CNRP to defect.
A former CNRP commune chief named Seik Chamnap said he wouldn’t sell out and take any position from the CPP. He reiterated that the people didn’t vote for a CPP candidate.
“We are standing firm. We won’t bow our heads,” Seik Chamnap said.
Hun Sen also said again that he would not request that Cambodia’s king restore the political rights of the entire group of 118 CNRP officials who were banned from politics, but would allow them to request reinstatement individually. He urged those still banned to complete their requests soon so that they can return to politics in time to compete in future elections.
RFA’s Khmer Service attempted to contact Sam Rainsy for comment but was unable to reach him.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.