A spokesman for the Cambodian government asked opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday to seek a “compromise” with Prime Minister Hun Sen after the exiled politician vowed to return home and the police threatened to arrest and jail him on arrival.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan urged Sam Rainsy to write to Hun Sen, in an indication that a political compromise could be worked out before the July 28 elections.
“Sam Rainsy must write a letter to Samdech Hun Sen asking for a compromise,” Phay Siphan told RFA’s Khmer Service, using an honorific term for the prime minister who has ruled Cambodia since 1985 and is widely expected to win the upcoming elections.
He said that since Sam Rainsy had left the country in 2009 to live in exile in France of his own accord, it was incumbent upon him to offer a political solution.
“Sam Rainsy decided to leave the country, and Sam Rainsy himself must decide whether to go back and decide to seek a compromise for a political solution,” Phay Siphan said.
It is believed to be the first time a Cambodian government official is seen to be proposing a compromise over Sam Rainsy's return.
The charismatic president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the main opposition party, said on Sunday that he would return home despite the risk of being jailed for convictions that many feel were politically motivated.
Sam Rainsy said that by returning home, he could “test” the democratic process in his country and draw international attention to the elections to ensure they are “free and fair.”
He said he made up his mind to return after Hun Sen's administration excluded him from the electoral process and after his appeal for a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni was not considered.
A day later, Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior immediately issued a statement saying that the authorities would arrest the opposition leader if he enters the country.
“In case Sam Rainsy returns to the country, the National Police Commission has no choice but to implement the court warrant,” a ministry statement read.
Sam Rainsy, 64, a former lawmaker, was convicted and ordered jailed in 2009 for the removal of a temporary post demarcating Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.
Together with other convictions he said were part of a campaign of political persecution, he faces up to 11 years in prison.
Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that he would welcome any negotiations with Hun Sen’s government.
“I hope that there will be a negotiation … to resolve the issue among Khmers,” he said.
He said he will not resist arrest when he returns home and urged his supporters not to protest if he is jailed.
“The authorities will have no need to arrest me; they can just let me know where they want to detain me, and I will go,” Sam Rainsy told RFA.
International observers have viewed the longtime opposition parliamentarian’s participation in the election as a key test of the credibility of the vote.
Meanwhile, the United States, commenting on Sam Rainsy’s plan to return, urged the Cambodian government to allow him back “without fear for his personal safety or incarceration” and to take steps to hold “credible” polls.
“Free and fair elections require a level playing field, including the unfettered participation of opposition parties and voters and respect for human rights.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“We urge the Cambodian government to take necessary steps to hold transparent and credible elections, including ensuring equal media access for all parties, improving the voter registration list, and implementing the recommendations of the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia.”
The U.N. expert had called for sweeping electoral reforms which were largely dismissed by the government.
Some U.S. lawmakers have also called on U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration to cut off aid to Cambodia if the election is not free and fair.
At a hearing at the House of Representatives Tuesday, Representative Steve Chabot urged the Obama administration not to recognize the Cambodian vote as legitimate if U.N. recommendations are ignored and “opposition leaders are excluded from the election.”
Chabot, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Asia Pacific panel which held the hearing, said the CPP had undertaken a “long list” of “intimidating and repressive actions” in the run-up to the vote.
“It also refuses to allow opposition leader Sam Rainsy from running in the upcoming election, has made death threats to human rights activists and organizations, and inhibits other opposition parties from running effective campaigns,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.