Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy, who has been forced to live in exile since 2015 in the face of questionable defamation charges made against him, spoke with Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia's Khmer Service from New Zealand on Sept. 20 about the recently formed Association for Democracy in Cambodia and other recent political developments.
RFA: What is the purpose of your current trip to New Zealand and Australia?
Sam Rainsy: The trip is part of my mission to build the Association for Democracy in Cambodia, which is comprised of people around the world. I am also visiting Australian and New Zealand officials, including the Mayor of Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand. They are strong supporters of democracy in Cambodia.
RFA: How does the Association operate?
Sam Rainsy: The Association, which is based in Paris, France, is nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Its main objective is to promote democracy in Cambodia, and this would include voter education. It is meant to promote free and fair elections.
RFA: Many around the world feel that democracy in Cambodia is on its deathbed. How optimistic are you that it can be revived?
Sam Rainsy: I haven't lost hope, as the situation may change in the near future. Cambodians around the world are calling on the world to help ensure that Cambodia's next national election is free and fair so that democracy can flourish. I am communicating with influential people in different countries who are interested in Cambodia, and am asking them to join hands in pressuring and warning Cambodian authorities to guarantee an election that is internationally recognized as free and fair.
Any government formed from a fraudulent election will not be legitimate. I want to take this opportunity to encourage every Cambodian to register to vote. I am doing my own part to ensure that the election is free and fair. We are making efforts to bring the current political situation back to normalcy. In the meantime, may I once again call on every Cambodian to register to vote. Don't get carried away or distracted by current developments.
RFA: Now that [CNRP party leader] Kem Sokha is under detention, have you been approached by any officials in the government to discuss this situation?
Sam Rainsy: I strongly rule out any possibility that the CNRP can be divided. I am committed to remaining loyal to my people and my country. No one can buy me. I am not intimidated. Members of the Association for Democracy in Cambodia also include foreign nationals who want Cambodia to have democracy.
RFA: There is no way you would abandon Kem Sokha and support Hun Sen?
Sam Rainsy: The authorities should release Kem Sokha and all political prisoners. We will not discuss any issues other than their release.
RFA: Hun Sen now says that he is trying to prevent history from repeating itself. He says that he is preventing the U.S. from harming Cambodia again, referring to America's bombings in Cambodia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He appears to be encouraging the CPP’s young supporters to be ready to take to the streets to protest against the U.S. embassy. What do you think about his position here?
Sam Rainsy: They are only diverting people’s attention from the real danger that Cambodia faces The U.S. and Western countries don't pose any risk to us. It is our neighboring country [referring apparently to Vietnam] that does this. It continues to attempt to swallow our land. It is making us fight each other, and when we fight each other we will be weak and vulnerable and dependent on its help. It even infiltrates undercover agents among us. This is the real danger.
We also face another great danger, as Hun Sen’s regime is behaving like that of Pol Pot. Hun Sen is building a close alliance with China. Pol Pot used to be very close to China, too. Under Pol Pot, millions of Cambodians were killed. The U.S. has never intended to swallow Cambodia. They have never destroyed Cambodian forests. They have never stolen Cambodian assets.
The [Vietnam] war is over, and the U.S. and the rest of the Free World are sincerely helping Cambodia. They help Cambodia in various sectors, including in economic development and the promotion of democracy. They are not our real enemies. It is wrong to accuse the U.S. The current regime is like Pol Pot’s regime, for it is killing people silently. They grab people’s land. They engage in corruption. Our forests are being destroyed, and many Cambodians are unemployed.
More than a million Cambodian workers have migrated to other countries to find work. And foreign immigrants are flooding into Cambodia at a time when Cambodians are leaving their own motherland.This is a silent killing. Those who collude with foreigners to kill Cambodians like this are nothing short of traitors. Those who promote democracy and human rights with the assistance of international organizations should not be treated as traitors.
RFA: You once agreed to stop calling Hun Sen a puppet of Vietnam. But now, Hun Sen considers Cambodian opposition leaders to be puppets of the U.S. Do you still consider Hun Sen to be a Vietnamese puppet? Or have you changed your mind?
Sam Rainsy: I don’t care what Hun Sen calls the CNRP's leaders. To me, anyone who serves foreign interests, either consciously and subconsciously, is a traitor. They destroy our national interest. One should understand what treason means. People who cede our land to our neighboring country, and who destroy our national assets by arbitrarily selling them for personal gain, are committing acts of treason. Those who make Cambodia lose its independence and sovereignty and who are moved by foreign influence to betray their own peoples’ common interests are traitors.
RFA: The political situation in Cambodia is tense now. Kem Sokha has been charged with treason, which is a very heavy charge. What do you think could reduce tensions at this point?
Sam Rainsy: I think we need to resort to the same scenario employed after the 1997 coup [which placed Hun Sen in power]. The situation is deteriorating badly, which warrants international intervention to revive our dying democracy. Hun Sen is like an abscess that is at its final stage and which definitely requires an operation without which the pain will endure for a much longer period.
RFA: Don’t you think the international community has become tired of intervening in Cambodia’s affairs time and again?
Sam Rainsy: They should not be too tired, as they have not intervened since 1997. Now the situation in Cambodia situation is deteriorating, which is jeopardizing the entire region. The current ruler is compromising everything for the sake of maintaining his own power. International intervention at this stage is vital.
Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Edited in English by Richard Finney.