Call for Pressure on Cambodia

The Cambodian opposition wants US President Obama to push for human rights during an expected historic visit.
2012-11-02
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Sam Rainsy speaks at RFA in Washington, Nov. 2, 2012.
RFA

U.S. President Barack Obama must use his influence to end human rights abuses and ensure free and fair elections in Cambodia if he attends the East Asia Summit meeting to be hosted by the country this month, exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Friday.

Sam Rainsy said that if Obama attends the Nov. 18-20 meeting in the capital Phnom Penh, his visit “must help Cambodia,” which holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also includes Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“If he goes to Cambodia, he must help Cambodia, to protect human rights and [to hold] a free and fair election,” Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer service in an interview.

“The people of Cambodia and I welcome Mr. Barack Obama, but we request that the President—if he goes to Cambodia—must use his influence to save the country.”

Sam Rainsy, 63, is president of the National Rescue Party (NRP)—a united opposition coalition – aimed at challenging Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in elections next year.

The opposition leader, currently living in self-imposed exile in Paris, could be imprisoned for up to 11 years on his return to Cambodia following convictions for various offenses he has said were part of a campaign of political persecution.

Sam Rainsy said that Phnom Penh has already been under “intense pressure” from Washington ahead of Obama’s expected visit, which he hopes will bring about positive change in the country.

“The U.S. President is [expected] to have a historic visit in Cambodia,” he said.

“Through experience, when we have top leaders from the U.S. in Cambodia, we get solutions.”

Sam Rainsy noted that ahead of a 2005 visit by senior U.S. State Department officials, the Cambodian government released independent Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando, then-president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights Kem Sokha, and Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association Rong Chhun from prison.

Mam Sonando has been thrown back in prison after being recently convicted of masterminding a revolt of villagers over a land dispute. He has rejected the charges.

Sam Rainsy’s call to Obama follows a commentary published this week in The New York Times, in which the opposition leader urged the U.S. President not to attend the ASEAN summit to avoid internationally legitimizing the rule of Hun Sen— the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia.

Rights groups have accused Hun Sen of suppressing dissent and intimidating political opponents, which Sam Rainsy said the prime minister had engaged in because “he knows that it’s an easier and safer way to win elections than allowing democratic debate.”

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985, and in 2009 said he would continue to stand as a candidate until 2023.

Kurt Campbell, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said Thursday that Washington is concerned about steps Cambodia has taken against opposition groups, civic organizations, and individuals.

Vow to return


Sam Rainsy has vowed to return to Cambodia by the end of the year to help lead the opposition in an effort to unseat the prime minister, but the government says he will be thrown in jail if he returns.

Just last week, Cambodia’s government effectively refused Sam Rainsy’s requests to return home to pay his last respects to the country’s former king Norodom Sihanouk, drawing protests from the dissident’s supporters at home.

Hun Sen’s administration had returned the opposition leader’s three letters of request, without providing any explanation, which members of his former party interpreted as a rejection of his request to honor the king, who died of a heart attack in October.

But Sam Rainsy on Friday downplayed the government’s lack of response, saying “positive signs” remain that he will be able to return to Cambodia.

“If there is a refusal, there must be a way out. This will not be for long,” he said.

The opposition leader said he would request that the government allow him to visit Cambodia for even a single day to “pay respects to the former king before his cremation.”

“This is not about politics.”

Sam Rainsy served former king Norodom Sihanouk as a minister of finance for the royalist Funcinpec Party in 1993.

But the head of the NRP said that he would continue to seek a resolution to the political tension in Cambodia for the sake of national reconciliation.

“I will explore all peaceful means of returning to Cambodia [for the former king] because my return is for religious and humanitarian reasons,” he said.

“I want to return because all Khmer must show respect for the soul of the former king.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (4)
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Sroksrae

It is hard to believ that Obama can improve the Human Right in Cambodia. Hun Sen won't agree Obama to interfere into this issue. If Obama put pressure on Hun Sen, China will help Hun Sen. US will lose. Human Right in Cambodia will not improve if Hun Sen is in power. We live under Hun Sen's power we really suffer. He does thing for people less than his personal interest.

Nov 07, 2012 02:24 AM

Rattha

We, the people of Cambodia, we want change !
It's time for " Donner governments " to act on Cambodian people's behalf to remove Hun Sen and his henchmen from power in Cambodia.
The fraudulent results of past elections can't justify the continuation of support to this government.
By now the coordinated migration of millions of Vietnamese who took up " legal and illegal " residence in Cambodia and now have right to vote.
You all know this, your diplomats are aware of what has happened, yet nothing changes.
Is it too much to help Cambodians find some happiness ?

Nov 05, 2012 08:58 AM

Gary fultheim

from Long Beach calif

Sam Rainsy broke laws and attempted to murder a elected official in the past. Sam Rainsy should not be free.what he says about Cambodian elections contradicts reports from the US State department. Those that receive campaign donations from SR or his supporters pressure their friends in the media to write articles.
Sam Rainsy's pressure on the USA officials only pushes Cambodia closer to China.. You should report that some evidence indicates the King killed Sam Rainsy's father.
Does Sam Rainsy deny this fact? What type of individual would honor a king that killed his father. the agenda of RFA will probably not allow you to print the hypocrasy or mis leading points of view.

Nov 04, 2012 03:16 PM

Jaysoriyavong Rachea

from USA

I need Barack Obama use his firm commitment to devaluate Hun Sen and push him out of the next election.Hun Sen is a dictator and vietnamese puppet since January 7,1979 till Today.

Nov 03, 2012 11:51 AM