Hun Sen Gains Laos’ Support in Preventing Sam Rainsy Return to Cambodia

hun-sen-thongloun-sisoulith-20190912-crop Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, talks with his Laos counterpart Thongloun Sisoulith, left, as they watch a signing ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

In a meeting of prime ministers Wednesday, Cambodia’s Hun Sen appeared to eliminate neighboring Laos as a potential route by which self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy could return to Cambodia as he has pledged to do in November.

Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith met with Hun Sen in Phnom Penh during a state visit, and the two agreed to work together on several issues, including to peacefully resolve an ongoing border dispute.

Hun Sen spoke of the possibility of Laos allowing Sam Rainsy, acting president of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, to return to Cambodia through Laos, saying he did not believe that the Lao side would use this as a bargaining chip. But he did ask the Lao prime minister to clarify his country’s position regarding the possibility.

“I want his excellency to clarify Laos’ policy on not allowing someone to use Lao territory to attack Cambodia or other countries,” he said.

Hun Sen added that Thailand had already agreed to arrest the exiled opposition leader should he attempt to return through Thai territory.

Thongloun Sisoulith said through a translator that any individual wanting to use Laos against other countries would face legal consequences.

“If any convicted person crosses Laos, regardless of nationality, we will take strict measures against them,” said Thongloun Sisoulith.

“We will strictly enforce this for our friends in Cambodia,” he said.

Appeal to Malaysia’s Mahathir

Thongloun Sisoulith’s visit comes one week after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad concluded a visit to Cambodia.

During that visit, Mahathir addressed students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in front of an audience of hundreds.

The Khmer Times reported that one student asked if Cambodia should try to adopt Western-style democracy or its own version.

Mahathir said Cambodia should adopt only the aspects of Western democracy with which it is compatible.

Speaking specifically about adopting from the United States, Mahathir said, “[Democracy] is older than the American civilization. America is a very young country compared to Cambodia.”

“So why are you not proud of your own culture? Your own ways of living, of thinking?” he added.

“Sometimes you copy them, which is okay if the things are good. I think the systems of government and democracy, for example, are very good. We should copy that,” said Mahathir.

During the three-day visit, Mahathir also signed two MOUs with Prime Minister Hun Sen and they issued a joint statement expressing satisfaction on the growing friendship and cooperation of the two countries.

Sam Rainsy took the opportunity presented by the visit to send a letter commending Mahathir for sharing his wisdom and asking for Malaysia’s support for the reinstatement of the CNRP as a legitimate political party in Cambodia.

“Appreciating the role of Malaysia as a signatory of the Paris Peace Accords and the founding documents of ASEAN, we warmly encourage You, Honourable Prime Minister, to invest all efforts in helping to facilitate a dialogue between the government authorities and the opposition CNRP leaders aimed at national reconciliation, stability and prosperity within the framework of our constitutional liberal democracy,” said the CNRP’s acting president.

Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service he also sent similar letters to the other signatories of the Paris Peace Accord, but did not elaborate.

The Paris Peace Agreements ended war between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1991 and led to the U.N.’s administration of Cambodia’s government while the country transitioned to a system of democratic elections.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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