Cambodia close to tipping point: UN

Mr Sam Rainsy (far left), Cambodia's most prominent opposition leader, and Prime Minister Hun Sen in less fraught times. An arrest warrant has been issued for Mr Sam Rainsy after his verbal spat with the strongman Premier.
Mr Sam Rainsy (left), Cambodia's most prominent opposition leader, and Prime Minister Hun Sen in less fraught times. An arrest warrant has been issued for Mr Sam Rainsy after his verbal spat with the strongman Premier.PHOTO: REUTERS

Human rights envoy says country's fractious political situation pushing it to the brink

PHNOM PENH • Cambodia's increasingly fractious political situation is pushing the country towards a "dangerous tipping point", the United Nations human rights envoy to the kingdom said yesterday.

The country has been plunged into a bitter political crisis after an arrest warrant was issued for Mr Sam Rainsy, Cambodia's most prominent opposition leader.

He has since accused strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen of trying to destroy the opposition movement.

Ms Rhona Smith, the UN's human rights rapporteur for Cambodia, said the increased political infighting has been accompanied by an uptick in rights abuses including "incidences of violence; intimidation of individuals; and resort to offensive language in the political discourse".

"Any intensification of current events could bring Cambodia to a dangerous tipping point," she said in a statement.

Ms Smith said she did not want to interfere in Cambodia's internal politics, nor comment on the merits of the case against Mr Sam Rainsy.

But she added: "It is of great concern to me that there are multiple alleged violations of peaceful exercise of freedoms of opinion and expression, as well as the right to participate in political life."

Mr Sam Rainsy, who already faces a two-year jail term if he returns to the country, was charged last week with being "an accomplice" in making a disputed document about the border with Vietnam.

He cancelled a planned return to Cambodia last week after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity and is currently in Europe. He has been summoned to appear in court in Cambodia on Dec 4.

The arrest warrant was issued after Mr Sam Rainsy verbally sparred with Mr Hun Sen earlier this month, calling for full democracy in Cambodia and citing successful elections in Myanmar as an example. This prompted the Premier to threaten fresh legal action.

Mr Sam Rainsy, who holds Cambodian and French nationality, has gone into self-imposed exile three times to avoid imprisonment over what he claims are political charges lodged at the behest of his rival, in power for three decades.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has also expressed concern about the moves against Mr Sam Rainsy and incidents against Cambodia's opposition politicians.

In October, three military officials were charged with the savage beating of two opposition lawmakers during a protest.

The lawmakers were attacked during a protest by Mr Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party calling for key opposition figure Kem Sokha to step down from his role as deputy chief of Parliament.

Mr Kem Sokha was later stripped of the position by ruling party lawmakers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Cambodia close to tipping point: UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe