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, has been traveling abroad to lobby world governments to put pressure on Cambodian government to halt Prime Minister Hun Sen's harsh crackdown on the opposition ahead of July 2018 elections. He spoke with RFA Khmer Service reporter Chun Chanboth from Rome, Italy on Friday.
RFA: This is the first time you have posed for a picture with some of your former colleagues of the CNRP since the amended law on political parties has come into force. In the video clip you posted today on your Facebook page, you sounded very confident when you announced that the government of Cambodia would not dare to dissolve the CNRP. What factors have contributed to such an affirmative statement?
Sam Rainsy: We have obtained consistent information from several sources. We are now certain that they cannot dissolve the CNRP. As I have previously stated, he who attempts to dissolve the opposition party will be cursed. It has become clear that he knew that he would be destroyed if he continued his ill intention to get rid of the CNRP. He is now in a panic and abandons his intention to dissolve the opposition party. We are no longer worried about the dissolution of the CNRP. I am no longer of afraid of meeting with CNRP lawmakers. I used to feel that such meetings would serve as a pretext to dissolve the opposition. Even if the party is accused of associating with so-called treason, the ruling party cannot dissolve the opposition. I therefore trust that they cannot use my association with my former colleagues as an excuse to dissolve the opposition. Now that Hun Sen knows that he cannot dissolve the CNRP, he tries to buy off one or two members of the CNRP and make them sew division in the CNRP. Kem Sokha is now under threats and duress. Those people who take the CPP’s bait then act like they are talking on behalf of Kem Sokha to create confusion and uncertainty among the CNRP’s members and supporters. Fortunately, this ill will is now revealed. I have to inform the public that the ruling party is retreating now. They are under international pressure to back off. The opposition cannot be divided or bought. We have made our statement that the Permanent Committee of the CNRP is the only decision-making body of the party. Now, two-thirds of that committee’s members are abroad. With that no one can break the CNRP. It’s a great victory for Cambodians who support the opposition party.
RFA: In the statement you made in that (Facebook) video, you indicated that Kem Sokha cannot make any decision due to his being under threats and duress. Are you acting on behalf of Kem Sokha in making decisions for the party?
Sam Rainsy: No, I am not. I am not saying that every statement Kem Sokha makes from his cell is against his will. However we need to verify the veracity of any statement he makes before we accept that it is not made under duress or threats. In the event that Kem Sokha issues an extraordinary statement which harms party interests, such as defecting to the ruling party, or instructs the party to unwisely nominate party candidates, there will be a level of doubt about his move.
RFA: Do you think you will be able to return to politics to serve the CNRP?
Sam Rainsy: I am not the only person who is involved in finding a common and overarching solution for Cambodia.
RFA: Is the solution you are seeking for Cambodia a package solution which includes your return to Cambodia, Kem Sokha’s release, the release of all political prisoners and CNRP’s jailed members, lifting of restriction on civil society organizations and freedom for independent media like the RFA, VOA and VOD to operate in Cambodia again?
Sam Rainsy: Yes, it is. I consider myself as part and parcel of that package and so is the RFA or other institutions. There must be a common solution. Hun Sen cannot be allowed to do whatever he wants. What the CNRP is looking for is a common and dignified solution for every Cambodian.
RFA: When meeting workers on October 25, Hun Sen spent several hours to send out the same message to CNRP’s elected commune councils to defect to the ruling party. He was so confident that the opposition party was going to be dissolved. What is your comment on that?
Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen will continue to lie to, cheat and fool people until his last breath. However Cambodians these days are no longer easily fooled. I recall an event that happened in Romania in 1989, when the communist leader and dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who said he would rule Romania for life and promised to improve people life. But that’s a lie. Finally Romanians no longer trusted him. In that same year people started to protest against him. He then ordered his soldiers to open fire on them. But the soldiers didn’t listen to him. They instead turned their weapons on him and his wife. They were then executed by firing squad.
RFA: Hopefully, such a tragic event will not happen in Cambodia. Do you agree?
Sam Rainsy: I hope not. I’m just reminding people of the history and that they should not be fooled by dictators. No matter how strong and powerful those dictators are they will have their final days.
RFA: How optimistic are you that you will be able to return to Cambodia?
Sam Rainsy: I have created an association to pave the way for democracy to take roots in Cambodia. I would like to encourage a free and fair election. If the election is free and fair, the CNRP will certainly win the election. The CNRP’s victory is Cambodian people’s victory. Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia is not important. What is important is change through elections by the people’s will.
RFA: What are you actually doing in Rome, Italy now?
Sam Rainsy: We are meeting with government officials and civil society organization leaders. We will continue our trip to other parts of the world to gather support from the international community to pressure the Hun Sen government. We want the international community to put visa bans on government officials.
RFA: In France you were lobbying with the French government to call for a meeting of the former co-chairs of the (1991) Paris Peace Accords. Could you share with us any progress you have made in your work?
Sam Rainsy: I am not the only person involved in this lobbying. Not only the CNRP, but also other civil organizations and bodies and governments are also enthusiastically engaged in efforts to recall the spirit of the Paris Peace Accords. Hun Sen says the agreement is dead. Actually the agreement is still alive. It will stay alive as long as democracy in Cambodia is not enjoyed fully.
Translated by Nareth Muong.