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‘Door closed’ for Rainsy, says Namhong

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (right) talks with William Heidt, the US ambassador to Cambodia, yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (right) talks with William Heidt, the US ambassador to Cambodia, yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

‘Door closed’ for Rainsy, says Namhong

Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong said after a meeting with US Ambassador William Heidt yesterday that the “time was over” for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to retract comments that are the subject of an outstanding defamation sentence.

“I had kept the door open for … Sam Rainsy to give him the ability to be free from punishment,” Namhong told reporters. “But I think that the time is over [for Rainsy] because of his insolent and twisted [words].”

Rainsy was convicted in absentia of libel after he had alleged in 2008 that Namhong had committed crimes while jailed by the Khmer Rouge at the Boeung Trabek prison camp in the late 1970s.

Namhong yesterday also threatened fresh legal action against an unnamed person “close to Rainsy” over comments made on Facebook in relation to the same allegations.

“I was surprised that a person close to Sam Rainsy . . . I don’t want to reveal the name or whereabouts of that person . . . cruelly attacked me over this matter.

Perhaps my lawyer has been working with the court [on this case],” he said.

Namhong has vehemently denied the claims, and an arrest warrant against the Cambodia National Rescue Party president was issued while Rainsy was on a trip to South Korea in November.

Rather than return to serve the sentence, Rainsy chose to enter self-imposed exile and is currently in Europe.

Namhong said yesterday that Rainsy’s regular ripostes on his Facebook page since the issuance of the arrest warrant had caused offence and meant he would no longer consider supporting a pardon if a political compromise was reached.

“Rainsy did not only respond [to the arrest warrant], he asked me to apologise to the people who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. These words were very insolent and twisted, and force me to push for the implementation of the arrest warrant at the Appeal Court,” Namhong said.

Since the warrant was issued, two further sets of charges have been laid against Rainsy in separate cases.

Soy Sopheap, a media baron who claims to have been attempting to mediate between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Rainsy, said yesterday that he believed Rainsy would not seek to return to Cambodia for some time.

“I believe Rainsy doesn’t want to do anything . . . until close to the election, because he wants to gain popularity abroad,” he said.

Rainsy, who could not be reached yesterday, has argued that the libel case was invalid as he had already been cleared for the same alleged crime by the French Supreme Court.

Ambassador Heidt, who did not address Namhong’s legal action against Rainsy, said after the meeting that the meeting was cordial.

“It was the first time I saw the minister in about 15 years, so it’s a really great pleasure to meet him,” said Heidt, who recently assumed the position and previously worked for the US Embassy in Cambodia in the 1990s.

“We discussed a range of topics, including politics and economics, people-to-people ties, and agreed to keep in close contact to try to build a stronger relationship.”

Namhong added that Heidt had requested the government guarantee the security of opposition lawmakers following the beating outside parliament last month of two CNRP MPs.

“[Heidt] was convinced by my explanations, so it was a good thing,” Namhong said, going on to express thanks for continued support to the education and health sectors and “strong military cooperation”.

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