Authorities on Monday vowed to arrest and jail Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy if he returns to the country as he has pledged to do ahead of July 28 national elections.
National Police Commission spokesman Kiet Chantharith said that the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would be taken into custody on his arrival due to a series of convictions.
Sam Rainsy fled to France in 2009 after being convicted of various offenses the opposition leader says were politically motivated and for which he had been ordered to serve a total of 11 years in prison.
“Sam Rainsy left the country of his own volition to avoid conviction,” Kiet Chantharith told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“We don’t know for sure whether he will return or not, but as for the authorities, we will enforce the law,” he said, adding that the police have already received a warrant for Sam Rainsy’s arrest.
Sam Rainsy said on Sunday that he would return home despite the risk of being jailed to “test” the democratic process in his country and to draw international attention to the polls to ensure they are “free and fair.”
In a post on his Facebook page, Sam Rainsy said that he made up his mind to return after Prime Minister 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.
Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior also issued a statement Monday quoting Kiet Chantharith as saying that 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,” the statement read.
Kiet Chantharith refused to comment on whether Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government was behind the order to arrest Sam Rainsy.
Vow to return
Speaking from France on Monday, Sam Rainsy reiterated his pledge to return home.
“As I stated on Facebook, I will arrive in Cambodia before the July 28 election,” he said.
Sam Rainsy declined to provide details on his travel itinerary, but said he would release the information as his planned date of return to Cambodia draws nearer.
He maintained that the charges against him were “trumped up” and “purely political.”
“This is not about a court affair, it is a political issue,” he said.
Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People’s Party is widely expected to win the elections, enabling him to extend his 28 years in power. The ruling party has won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.
Sam Rainsy has said several times before that he wanted to return but changed his mind later.
Two weeks ago, he told RFA’s Khmer Service that he would be unable to return before the elections despite previously suggesting that an agreement could be reached between the CNRP and Hun Sen’s government allowing him to take part in the polls.
Sam Rainsy said then that it was more important to the future of the country that he remains free, instead of going to jail and “falling into Hun Sen’s trap.”
The opposition has said it is confident that “tens of thousands of people” would rally to “protect” Sam Rainsy on his return.
Reported by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.