Opposition Leader Rainsy Praises Indonesia as Cambodia Frees Some Supporters

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Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks to reporters in the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before flying to Indonesia, Nov. 14, 2019.
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks to reporters in the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before flying to Indonesia, Nov. 14, 2019.

Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy praised Indonesia’s democracy on Thursday in Jakarta as he pondered his plans to return to Phnom Penh, where the government released dozens of activists detained for aiding his challenge to strongman ruler Hun Sen.

Rainsy, acting head of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), flew in from Malaysia after his planned return to Cambodia on Saturday was thwarted. Cambodian authorities barred him and neighboring Thailand refused to let him fly into Bangkok.

“They push for the respect for universal human rights, especially human rights in Southeast Asia. Spiritually, they encourage us to struggle for human rights and real democracy in Cambodia,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service after meeting Indonesia lawmakers and human rights officials.

“They said that human rights is a universal value, meaning that human rights in one country is not different than that in other countries,” said Rainsy.

“We have received emotional support from them, because they have encouraged us to demand respect for human rights in Cambodia and fight for a real democracy like in Indonesia,” he told RFA.

In Phnom Penh, meanwhile, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered prosecutors across the country to speed up the process of releasing CNRP activists, detained in the run up to Rainsy’s planned homecoming on Nov. 9 from four years in exile. The government had labeled his return plans a “coup attempt.”

"The (coup) plot had ill will, but people did not join it," said Hun Sen on Thursday.

'You were cheated'

He said more than 70 opposition activists would be released on bail "for the sake of national unity.”

“Those who are in hiding, please return home. We understood your situation, but we couldn’t say that before Nov 9. You were cheated,” said Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985.

“Today as a leader of the executive branch I appeal to all who are fleeing to return home. Local authorities, armed forces please stop and let them come home,” he said.

RFA was able to confirm that 17 CNRP activists were released from detention Thursday with 71 others detainees still being held.

CNRP activists, however, remained suspicious of Hun Sen’s gesture, even those who were released Thursday.

“What happened to me is very unjust. I didn’t have any weapons. I just wanted to accompany Sam Rainsy to return home for national reconciliation,” CNRP activist Nuth Pich told RFA.

He and other CNRP activists noted that charges against them were not dropped and they merely were released on bail.

CNRP activists outside Cambodia said they would wait for the political situation to improve before returning.

“What the government has done now is just to ease tensions with the international community,” said Klaing Bunlai.

EU pressure cited

Analyst Lao Mong Hai told RFA that Hun Sen’s gesture doesn’t offer genuine clemency and was the result of pressure over trade from the European Union.

“Hun Sen has no choice because he is losing EBA,” said exiled activist Khem Roeun, referring to the EU’s Everything But Arms scheme of trade preferences enjoyed by Cambodia that is at risk as a result of Hun Sen’s rollback of democracy since 2017.

“We won’t fall into his trap,” he told RFA.

On Tuesday, the EU issued a confidential 70-page report warning Cambodia that it has not taken enough steps to prevent a loss of its special EBA trade privileges, noting particularly "further deterioration" of its human rights record since a review process was launched nine months ago.

The report came ahead of a looming February 2020 deadline for the EU to decide whether to remove Cambodia from a scheme that gives the world's poorest countries duty-free, quota-free access for all products except arms and ammunition.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the EU report, but said the release of CNRP activists had “nothing to do with the EBA.”

“They were arrested because they participated in the coup plot,” he told RFA.

Rainsy, however, credited the EU pressure with the gestures by Hun Sen, which also included the relaxation Sunday of the house arrest terms of former CNRP President Kem Sokha. He can now travel inside the country but is still forbidden from conducting political activities.

“I believe the situation in Cambodia is changing and changing fast within one month because the EU is putting out its condition very clearly,” he told RFA.

“The political prisoners who have been arrested and detained unjustly in recent weeks and months will be all set free," added Rainsy.

He said he planned to stay near Cambodia because “it will be faster when I need to go to Cambodia.”

The EU launched the process to strip Cambodia of its preferential trade terms following the arrest in 2017 of Kem Sokha and the banning of the popular CNRP ahead of elections last year.

The ban and a crackdown by Hun Sen on NGOs and the media paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the July 2018 elections.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights chairman Achmad Taufan Damanik said after meeting Rainsy that Jakarta needed to speak up more for Cambodian democracy.

"That's the point of Indonesia being elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council," he told BenarNews.

"ASEAN should not keep silent. Even though ASEAN members can't interfere in the domestic affairs of another member, at least there should be a dialogue on how not to use violent means," he added.

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.

Comments (3)



We (USA) are slowly losing the battle against China's Xi to influence the international community. If the West does not condemn and pressure Hun Sen to abide by the Paris Peace Accord China is going to build their military base in the Gulf of Thailand and alienate our allies in that region. This proxy fight over a tiny country has extended beyond just human rights and freedom; it has manifested itself into control of shipping lanes, rich oil deposits in the sea, and military aggression toward non-communist countries. The US must act quick and move to tamper the dictator in Cambodia and remove China's influence before it's too late and Cambodia becomes a de facto Chinese territory. Cambodia needs a Leader not a mob boss; the country has been spiraling towards communism after the last election.

Nov 15, 2019 10:59 AM


from Pnompenh

HUN SEN asked RAINSY to come to Cambodia to Fight and when RAINSY comes HUN SEN is nervously scare and Block Rainsy to get in Cambodia. So you want Mr SAM RAINSY to come to Cambodia to fight with you OR You want to meet Mr SAM RAINSY Outside Cambodia me HUN SEN. Are you going to wait for him or you want him to wait for you He already put his gloves on

Nov 15, 2019 02:51 AM

Anonymous Reader

The US and the West needs to take stronger approach with Cambodia repressive dictator Hun Sen. The US and the West have been dragging their feet with Hun Sen, but this only embolden his crack down on human rights and democracy. He has been in power for more than 34 years. Time is running out in this region unless something is done.

Nov 14, 2019 09:42 PM





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