Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy vowed again on Friday to go back to Cambodia after more than three years abroad, defying threats by ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen to arrest him but declining to set a clear date for his return.
“My plan is to return to Cambodia in 2019,” the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, now banned by court order in Cambodia but active outside the country, told RFA’s Khmer Service in a conversation on Skype from his self-imposed exile in Paris.
“I won’t travel home alone, though,” Sam Rainsy said.
“There are party members, workers from Thailand and Korea, and other supporters who will join me. And when I return, I won’t allow Hun Sen to arrest me,” he said, calling for Hun Sen to be arrested instead following his return.
“Millions of people will capture Hun Sen, and he will then be prosecuted on charges of brutality against his own people, of murder, and of treason,” he said.
Speaking to RFA, Sam Rainsy declined to set a firm date for his return, which he had earlier set for March.
“There are reasons that I can’t talk about this right now,” he said, pointing to a possible European Union suspension of Cambodia’s preferential trade access owing to a deterioration in the Southeast Asian nation’s labor and human rights record over the last year and a half.
“We will wait until the international community sanctions Hun Sen, and then we will go to Cambodia to bring him to justice,” he said.
“We won’t allow anyone to persecute us,” Sam Rainsy said, responding to threats by Hun Sen in a leaked phone call Thursday to destroy remaining CNRP structures in Cambodia before sanctions come into effect.
“And we can’t continue to bow our heads.”
Attempts to reach government spokesperson Phay Siphan for comment were unsuccessful Friday, though in a leaked audio clip posted on several Facebook pages in Cambodia Thursday morning, Hun Sen said that statements by Sam Rainsy should now simply be ignored.
“To weaken [Sam Rainsy’s] popularity, it would be good not to respond to him,” Hun Sen said. “We don’t need to talk so much about Sam Rainsy.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.