PHNOM PENH • A Cambodian court yesterday issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy in connection with an old defamation case as tension rises between him and Prime Minister Hun Sen after the collapse of a political truce.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court has ordered the police "to arrest and bring the convict Sam Rainsy to serve the (two-year defamation) sentence in jail", according to a copy of the arrest warrant seen by the media.
There are three years to go before a general election in Cambodia but acrimony between the two is threatening to plunge the South-east Asian nation back into political conflict.
The former finance minister was abroad yesterday. A colleague from his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) denounced the warrant as "politically motivated"and said it was not clear if Mr Sam Rainsy would return as scheduled on Monday.
The warrant came a day after self-styled strongman Hun Sen threatened in a speech on his Facebook page to launch a lawsuit against Mr Sam Rainsy for comments he made abroad about the election.
Mr Sam Rainsy had called on the international community to ensure that Mr Hun Sen stick to the election timetable and not use the deteriorating political situation to delay the vote.
Mr Hun Sen has been in power for more than 30 years and has warned that an election victory for the opposition in 2018 would see a return to civil war.
Lawmakers from Mr Sam Rainsy's CNRP were beaten outside Parliament last month, and his deputy was sacked from a key parliamentary post.
The arrest warrant relates to a conviction for defamation against Mr Sam Rainsy for which he has already received a royal pardon, government spokesman Phay Siphan said.
He was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail and fined US$2,000 (S$2,800) for defamation and incitement to provoke discrimination for remarks he made about the country's foreign minister in 2008. He received a pardon from the king in July 2013.
Mr Sam Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, were on a trip to South Korea yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said.
The CNRP ended a year-long parliamentary boycott after a deal in July last year with Mr Hun Sen's long-ruling Cambodian People's Party that granted a series of concessions to the opposition party.
The deal fell apart after a year, when opposition party lawmakers were jailed for insurrection for their role in a protest.
Up to two million people died of overwork, starvation or execution under the brutal Khmer Rouge, which outlawed religion, property rights, currency and schools during its 1975-1979 rule. Mr Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge cadre before he turned against the regime.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE