Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is warning opposition party members fleeing the country that they will soon be “sent back” from neighboring Thailand, where many have gone into hiding to escape persecution.
In a speech addressing thousands of garment workers in the capital on Sunday, Hun Sen railed against Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) commune councilors who had resisted repeated calls from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to defect to Hun Sen’s side.
“Don’t think I don’t know where you are hiding,” Hun Sen said in remarks aimed at CNRP party members who were elected to local commune posts in elections held earlier this year.
“Soon, you will all be deported,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen’s threats came on the Nov. 26 date of a third and final ultimatum by which members of the opposition CNRP, now formally dissolved by court order, were to have switched party affiliation in order to keep the jobs for which they had campaigned in June.
He had first targeted those elected to the posts, setting an ultimatum for Nov. 16, the date on which the CNRP was dissolved, Hun Sen said in Phnom Penh on Sunday.
“When the elected CNRP officials were not convinced, I targeted the candidates who had also run, and this worked. They will now be given the seats of those elected officials who failed to join us,” he said.
A new ultimatum targeting opposition party hold-outs was set for Nov. 24, and then extended to Nov. 26, Hun Sen said.
“You will never be able to forecast what Hun Sen will do,” he said. “People inside the CPP can’t even predict my moves, let alone members of the opposition.”
Out of a total of 5,007 opposition members elected to commune posts earlier this year, around 200 have now joined the CPP in order to keep their jobs, CNRP officials say, while pro-government media put the figure at a number about 10 times higher.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday, CNRP deputy vice president Eng Chhai Eang, who now lives in exile in the U.S., slammed Hun Sen’s threat to force the return of CNRP party members from Thailand, calling the Cambodian prime minister a “barbaric leader.”
“But I don’t believe that the Thai prime minister will do what Hun Sen wants him to do. The Thai authorities have a much better appreciation for human rights,” he said.
Though banned by order of Cambodia’s CPP-aligned Supreme Court, “We are not going to create a new party,” Eng Chhai Eang told RFA.
“Our main objective now is to move forward to the next national election. We are demanding the immediate release of [jailed party leader] Kem Sokha. We need to compete in the next national election as the CNRP.”
“The international community is considering imposing sanctions on Hun Sen’s government, and we hope to see a solution come from that in the near future,” he said.
Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 for allegedly collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—charges the U.S. embassy has rejected. Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Nov. 16 unanimously ruled that the CNRP be dissolved for its part in the plot, essentially eliminating any competition to Hun Sen ahead of a general election scheduled for July 2018.
Hun Sen’s government has faced widespread condemnation in recent months over its actions targeting the CNRP, as well as for orchestrating the closure of independent media outlets and cracking down on nongovernmental organizations.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.