Cambodian political exiles' bid to return blocked

Mr Sam Rainsy, co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and a former finance minister, was prevented from boarding a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS Ms Mu Sochua, vice-president of the now-dissolved Cambodi
Ms Mu Sochua, vice-president of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was detained by immigration officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at around midnight on Wednesday. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Sam Rainsy, co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and a former finance minister, was prevented from boarding a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS Ms Mu Sochua, vice-president of the now-dissolved Cambodi
Mr Sam Rainsy, co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and a former finance minister, was prevented from boarding a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Duo from opposition party detained at airports in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur

Self-exiled members of the Cambodian opposition who announced plans to return this week have been thwarted in their journeys by the Thai and Malaysian governments.

Ms Mu Sochua, vice-president of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was detained by immigration officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at around midnight on Wednesday, two weeks after she was turned away at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy was prevented from boarding a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok yesterday, after Thai Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha publicly rejected his request for safe passage through Thailand.

The actions have triggered condemnation from human rights groups, who argue that Bangkok and Putrajaya should not be suppressing political opposition on Phnom Penh's behalf.

CNRP, which won 44.5 per cent of votes in Cambodia's 2013 general election, was dissolved in 2017 following the arrest of its president Kem Sokha for attempting to overthrow the government.

A year later, Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won a clean sweep of all the seats in Parliament.

Ms Sochua fled Cambodia in 2017 just before the crackdown but announced plans to return on Nov 9 - Cambodia's Independence Day - alongside exiled CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy. Phnom Penh accuses them of fomenting a coup.

After arriving in Kuala Lumpur on a flight from Jakarta at around midnight on Wednesday, Ms Sochua was detained by immigration officials. But she was allowed to enter Malaysia later yesterday afternoon, Malaysian human rights commissioner Jerald Joseph told The Straits Times.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said earlier yesterday that it was trying to send Ms Sochua to a third country.

"Our principle, in Asean in particular, generally is that we don't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," he told reporters. "We do not want to let them use Malaysia as a base for struggle in other countries. We wanted to deport her... now we are trying to find any country that can take her."

 
 
 
 

Dr Mahathir's words echoed those of Mr Prayut, who told reporters on Wednesday: "According to our commitment to Asean, we will not interfere in each other's internal affairs, and we will not allow an anti-government person to use Thailand for activism."

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the CNRP leaders posed a threat to national security. "They are not coming here in the name of political activities or the opposition, they come here to create chaos," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The CNRP leaders had previously said they would enter Cambodia via its land border with Thailand. According to local Cambodian media, posters of the exiled CNRP leaders have been placed at the Thai-Cambodian border crossings.

Former finance minister Rainsy, a longtime nemesis of Mr Hun Sen, fled Cambodia for France in 2015, before he was convicted of defaming Mr Hun Sen. From Paris, he has kept up his attacks on Mr Hun Sen.

In response to Mr Prayut's denial of access to Thailand, Mr Rainsy told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday: "We have already committed that we will arrive in Cambodia to rescue Cambodian people. So there are many ways and solutions. We will find one to enter Cambodia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2019, with the headline 'Cambodian political exiles' bid to return blocked'. Print Edition | Subscribe