UPDATED at 2:50 P.M. EST on 2019-11-13
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was denied entry into Indonesia Wednesday after a visit to Malaysia, according to sources, as the self-exiled leader struggled to return to his home country to push for democratic reforms.
Rainsy was scheduled to take an afternoon flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta on Wednesday, but he was not in the plane bound for the Indonesian capital.
He told RFA's Khmer service that he had missed his flight, without elaborating.
"My presence in Indonesia will speak volumes about our common interests,” Rainsy told RFA by telephone. He is scheduled to leave Malaysia for Indonesia Thursday morning at 9 a.m. local time, he added.
In an earlier tweet around 3:30 p.m. local time, Rainsy announced that he and two other members of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were traveling from Malaysia to Indonesia and expected to arrive in Jakarta aboard Malaysia Airlines flight 723 about two hours later.
“Malaysia Airlines denied boarding of the said passenger under the instruction of the Indonesian authorities. For further details please contact the relevant authorities,” said a statement issued by the airliner, also known as MAS.
Indonesian authorities confirmed that Rainsy was not in the country but denied that he had been barred from entering.
“There has been no order to bar entry for the person. Upon checking, Sam Rainsy is not in Indonesian territory,” Immigration Department spokesman Sam Fernando told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Shown the MAS statement, Fernando said, “I don't know. From our side, that's all we can say.”
Asked about Rainsy’s status, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah simply said: “I don't know,” and declined to answer further questions.
Friends in Malaysia
Rainsy, who has lived in self-imposed exile in France since November 2015, and other CNRP leaders have been trying to re-enter Cambodia to lead what they describe as a restoration of democracy there.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power since 1985, has labeled the plan part of a rebellion and has vowed to arrest the opposition leader on sight.
Rainsy’s earlier attempt to get there via Thailand was thwarted late last week when he was refused permission to board a Thai Airways plane in Paris.
He was later allowed to land in Malaysia, which he described as “a political success” and held a meeting with some 20 Malaysian lawmakers at the nation’s parliament.
“Here in Malaysia, we have many friends and like-minded people,” Rainsy said after his closed-door meeting with the Malaysian lawmakers.
Meanwhile in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, former CNRP President Kem Sokha continued his outreach to key foreign diplomats following Sunday’s partial easing of the conditions of his release on bail, meeting Japanese Ambassador Masahiro Mikami and EU Ambassador Carmen Moreno.
“The ambassador visited Kem Sokha and asked about his health. The ambassador praised Kem Sokha for his patience for the sake of the country and democracy,” said his spokesman Muth Chantha, following the meeting with Japan’s envoy.
Muth Chantha said that the EU ambassador expressed similar concerns.
“The ambassador asked about his health and future plans if he is free to do politics. They discussed about the best ways to benefit the people and to improve and develop the country,” he said.
After the meeting, Kem Sokha declined to talk to reporters beyond saying that his health is fine.
US presses for relaxation
The former president of the CNRP was taken into custody in September 2017 for “treason” and released on strictly supervised bail a year later awaiting a trial that could see him sentenced to up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The CNRP was banned in November 2017 and its seats in parliament and on local governing councils were given to pro-government parties.
Kem Sokha, 66, who since late 2018 had been allowed only monitored meetings with his family and lawyers in the confines of his housing compound, is now free to leave his house, but can’t travel outside Cambodia or take part in political activities, said the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“We want him to be free soon but let the lawyers work on the case. “We are monitoring the situation,” said Muth Chantha, the spokesman.
Kem Sokha on Monday met U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy, who said the easing of restrictions of his de facto house arrest does not go far enough.
“Our advice, as a friend of the Kingdom of Cambodia, is that the authorities find a way to restore Mr. Kem Sokha’s entire freedoms and liberties, to drop the charges against him, but also to use this important time and place to do the same for many other people who have had their freedoms and liberties denied,” he said, referring to an ongoing clampdown on the opposition, NGOs and the media.
Murphy met Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh on Wednesday and again called for an end of the crackdown on the opposition.
“Ambassador Murphy noted that further steps to restore full multi-party democracy and rights for political figures will contribute to Cambodia’s stability and prosperity, strengthen the overall U.S.-Cambodia relationship, and help preserve Cambodia’s sovereignty and independence,” the embassy said in a statement.
Meanwhile, CNRP activists who gathered in Thailand last week in anticipation that Sam Rainsy would enter Cambodia by land are staying in that country awaiting for Sam Rainsy.
“I would like to urge people not to be disappointed. We are figuring out ways to return to Cambodia,” Chhin Dalin, a supporter from Canada who is staying in Bangkok with 10 other activists, told RFA.
“Many people are staying in the same hotel. They have refused to return home,” said another activist, Samath Chhun, who arrived in Thailand 10 days ago.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Khmer translation by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert and Kate Bedall.