Speaking in a Sept. 4 interview in the RFA studio with Vuthy Huot of RFA's Khmer Service, the former chief of Cambodia's now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party says that international pressure will soon force Prime Minister Hun Sen to free jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been jailed for more than a year without trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
RFA: In recent public forums with CNRP supporters, you have expressed your optimism that Kem Sokha will be released very soon. What makes you believe that?
Sam Rainsy: I know that Hun Sen is now under tremendous pressure from the international community to release Kem Sokha immediately. I am very confident that Hun Sen cannot dodge such pressure. He will have to release Kem Sokha in the very near future.
RFA: Hun Sen has already released several political prisoners. Is this a sign that Hun Sen wants to restore democracy and negotiate with the CNRP for a political solution?
Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen will have to face the international community. Sam Rainsy and the CNRP do not need to negotiate with Hun Sen. The Cambodian government lacks legitimacy, and without this it it is going to fail. Hun Sen is now at a dead end. He has no other option but negotiation with the international community for a way out.
RFA: Do you believe that Hun Sen is ready for such negotiation? He seems to become very agitated when people talk about a possible negotiation with the CNRP.
Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen is very selfish person. This is his nature. However, he has to change. If he wants his government to be legitimate, he has to release Kem Sokha, arrange for a re-election, and reinstate the CNRP so that we can join the election.
RFA: Is it fair to say that it is not enough that Hun Sen has released the political prisoners?
Sam Rainsy: Yes, it is. Hun Sen has killed democracy. He has done this by dissolving the CNRP, which is the main and only viable opposition political party in Cambodia. Any election that has no opposition party is considered a sham and unacceptable. And any assembly that is formed from such an election is null and void. Any government that is formed based on the results of such an election is not recognized either.
RFA: Apart from waiting for the international community to put pressure on Hun Sen, what can you and the CNRP do as your next move to bring back democracy?
Sam Rainsy: We are now holding Hun Sen accountable for all the mistreatment he has inflicted upon us. What he has done is unacceptable to the Cambodian people and the world. I wish to make it clear to Hun Sen that Cambodia relies heavily on the support of the democratic countries and that Cambodia cannot survive by relying just on communist countries like China or Vietnam.
Hun Sen has crossed a red line. He has been strongly condemned by the world, and if he does not reverse his course of action, he will surely be sanctioned. He cannot ignore the power of international pressure. China’s support is not what Cambodians want. China also supported the Khmer Rouge, who killed millions of Cambodians. It is tragedy that China is involved again in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
RFA: Are you relying only on international pressure to make Hun Sen back down?
Sam Rainsy: We also rely on our own solidarity and unity. Hun Sen wanted to see us divided. But we remain united and even stronger. Hun Sen hoped to intimidate us, but we are not intimidated. The CNRP remains strong. Our commune councilors remain loyal to the CNRP. Our main strategy is to stay united and strong. Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy are one. I strongly believe that I will be able to meet with Kem Sokha in the near future.
RFA: Do you believe in targeted sanctions?
Sam Rainsy: Yes, I do. Certain individuals including Hun Sen, his family members, and senior officials should be sanctioned for the death of democracy in Cambodia.
RFA: If the international community sanctions Hun Sen’s regime, who do you think should be blamed?
Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen is the one who is responsible for all of this. He lacks any sense of good leadership. He is shortsighted in terms of economic diversification. Cambodia under Hun Sen relies economically on the textile industry. Where can Cambodia sell its products after the EU and US sanction Cambodia? Cambodia cannot export its products to China. China is Cambodia’s competitor.
I would like to make it clear to all factory workers in Cambodia that when sanctions are mounted against Hun Sen and his regime by the international community, it will not be the CNRP that is to blame. Hun Sen must be held responsible for that, because he undermines democracy and abuses human rights.
RFA: What do you think is the best chance for Cambodia to avoid being sanctioned?
Sam Rainsy: The only choice we have is to ensure that democracy is restored. Hun Sen must step down. Hun Sen must not hold Cambodians hostage. Whatever sanctions the international community may impose will be aimed at Hun Sen. However, he holds factory workers hostage. He does not want to be sanctioned all by himself. He diverts the sanctions onto the workers. So, Cambodians must stand up and demand that he step down. Only after democracy is restored will we have freedom, better employment, and other opportunities for growth for young Cambodians.
RFA: What was the purpose of sending your son to meet with Hun Sen’s son in Japan?
Sam Rainsy: It was an opportunity for our two sons to meet and talk. It was an unofficial meeting. Our friends in Japan arranged it. However, the CNRP still stands by its position that Hun Sen himself has to fix the mess he has created.
RFA: Why do you think the Cambodian courts continue to detain Kem Sokha for over a year now without a trial?
Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen is in big trouble now. He has accused Kem Sokha of attempting to topple his government. Knowing that the CNRP is a nonviolent political party, Hun Sen looks for excuses to implicate Kem Sokha in collusion with foreign powers, including the U.S. and Germany. Hun Sen has accused them too of being involved in this. Will Hun Sen issue a summons for Donald Trump and Angela Merkel for questioning? That is impossible. This is why Hun Sen continues to drag on and on regarding this case.
RFA: Is this why you are optimistic regarding an imminent release of Kem Sokha?
Sam Rainsy: Yes, it is. Hun Sen can choose to continue detaining Kem Sokha without a trial, but that is a very bad idea. Hun Sen can also release him on bail. This option is also very bad, but a better one. Hun Sen can also pretend to proceed to bring Kem Sokha to trial. But how is it possible to summon superpowers for a trial in kangaroo-court Cambodia? The final option is to drop all charges against Kem Sokha and release him immediately and unconditionally.
Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.