Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy flew into Malaysia on Saturday, saying his campaign to challenge Prime Minister Hun Sen was “on the right track” even though he made it only part way in his return from exile.
"Keep up the hope. We're on the right track," Rainsy said on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after an overnight flight from Paris Friday.
"Democracy will prevail. Democracy has prevailed in Malaysia. Democracy will prevail in Cambodia," said the acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Rainsy, 70, did not discuss plans to reach Cambodia from Malaysia. His earlier attempt to get there via Thailand was thwarted Thursday when he was refused permission to board a Thai Airways plane in Paris.
He told RFA’s Khmer Service that November 9 is “not the final day for repatriation to Cambodia” but a new step in his struggle to save the CNRP and democracy in Cambodia.
“This is the beginning of the struggle and fight for democracy and the revival of the CNRP”.
CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua told RFA “our plan will not change.”
“I want to appeal to all people, please continue to join with us, because we will not end this on November 9,” she said.
Rainsy said it was “a political success” for him to be allowed to land in Malaysia, after Hun Sen had pressed fellow Southeast Asian countries deny entry to CNRP members. He will give a speech to Malaysian parliament on November 12, he said.
"This is encouraging for me," he said.
Sochua echoed Rainsy’s praise of Malaysia.
“We have seen that Malaysia is very concerned for the rights and freedom for all of us,” she told RFA.
“I would like to state anew that we can come here, because they allowed us to come,” Sochua said. Malaysia allowed her to enter the country Thursday after detaining her for about 19 hours while questioning about her intentions.
“I was detained because of a black list Hun Sen, requested of Malaysia as well as other countries in the Asian region, but they detained us for a short time then released us after they understood that we are not guilty of what Hun Sen accuses us,” she told RFA.
Kudos for Malaysia
"Malaysia deserves kudos from around the world," said Phil Robertson of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. "More countries in ASEAN need to emulate Malaysia going forward if the bloc is ever going to shake the moniker of being primarily a dictator's club."
The CNRP announced in August that Rainsy would return to Cambodia on Nov. 9–the country’s Independence Day—to lead a restoration of democracy, calling on supporters and members of Cambodia’s armed forces to join him.
Hun Sen has labeled the plan part of a rebellion and has vowed to arrest the opposition leader on sight.
“The authorized measures are not political restrictions of rights and freedom, but the enforcement of law to prevent from causing turmoil in the society with political activities that go beyond the law,” Ministry Of Justice’s spokesman Chhin Malin told RFA.
Since Sam Rainsy fled Cambodia in 2012 to avoid a string of charges and convictions widely seen as politically motivated, Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 dissolved the CNRP for its role in an alleged plot to topple the government.
Sam Rainsy faces 18 years in prison from earlier court rulings that he has rejected as political persecution.
Hun Sen’s government has militarized Cambodia’s border provinces and ordered the armed forces to attack any opposition gatherings held on the date of Sam Rainsy’s planned return, banned commercial airlines that serve the country from boarding the CNRP chief, and sought the cooperation of neighboring countries by issuing arrest warrants to ensure that the return is prevented.
“We are trying to do all our best to respect our promise, but Hun Sen started to panic when November 9 approached, and he deployed the armed forces along the border to prevent us from returning to Cambodia,” Sochua told RFA.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.