T HE United Nations Secretary-General has refused to offer a legal opinion on Sam
Rainsy's position in the National Assembly, as foreign governments also shy away
from publicly supporting the embattled MP.
But support for the dissident,
who has appealed for foreign help to stay an MP, is mounting in some areas of
the international community.
While UN Secretary-General Boutros
Boutros-Ghali has told Rainsy he cannot get involved, Boutros-Ghali's Special
Representative on Human Rights in Cambodia - Australian judge Michael Kirby - is
considering doing so.
Kirby is understood to have instructed his staff to
prepare a letter to National Assembly president Chea Sim, opposing any bid to
oust Rainsy as an MP.
The letter is expected to question the legality of
any expulsion of Rainsy, and to express concern that such a move could be viewed
as a government bid to silence critics.
Boutros-Ghali, in response to a
request from Rainsy for a legal opinion, sent a message to him saying: "It is
the Secretary-General's considered opinion that the question of Mr Rainsy's
legal status in the National Assembly is strictly an internal matter and
therefore he cannot become involved."
Foreign governments with close
relations to Cambodia are taking a similar line, but are following events
A French Embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh said this week that his
government had no official position on Rainsy's situation because "we don't
interfere with political parties' affairs".
An Australian Embassy
spokesman said: "The Sam Rainsy issue is a domestic political issue for Cambodia
and not one in which our involvement would be appropriate at this
Asked whether the words "at this stage" implied Australia's
position could change, he said: "I would prefer to let the message speak for
A United States Embassy official said whether Rainsy could
legally be sacked as an MP was an "internal matter" for Cambodia.
we do feel strongly about is that everyone should have the right to speak freely
without harassment. The airing of opposition views is part of a
"But with respect to the specific case of Rainsy, it's an
internal matter," he said.
However, US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has
given a veiled warning that expulsion of Rainsy could affect trade or aid to the
"In seeking to silence the opposition, those now in power will
ultimately weaken their own legitimacy, strengthen Cambodia's proven enemies and
make it more difficult for friends of Cambodia, like the United States, to
engage in trade or offer assistance." Rohrabacher wrote in a May 24 letter to
Rohrabacher, on a visit to Cambodia in April, spoke of Cambodia's
prospects of being granted the US most favored nation trading status it has
In his letter to Rainsy, he wrote: "If you are removed,
Cambodia's democratic development may be called into question.
appears that the intent may not be just to silence you, but to intimidate the
entire leadership of the democratic opposition."
Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union - an organization of 135 member
parliaments - has written to Chea Sim, the assembly president.
sought his response to a complaint, which the union's human rights committee
planned to discuss, about Rainsy's attempted expulsion from Funcinpec and the
Rainsy, who maintains that his expulsion as an MP would be
unconstitutional and illegal, told the Post that "support from international
authorities to help Cambodia abide by the law is crucial to resist this
He said he was "a little bit" disappointed at Boutros Boutros-
Ghali's failure to give an opinion on the legal issues.
"The UN organized
the elections. The UN drafted the electoral law. So who can the Cambodian people
rely on for an independent legal opinion - only those who drafted the
Rainsy said he had written to Boutros-Ghali at the suggestion of
King Norodom Sihanouk, who had said only UN officials could give such an
"Who can I rely on?" Rainsy said. "Everybody is throwing the
issue at other people. Who will catch it?"
In Cambodia, Rainsy is
counting on the support of Funcinpec General-Secretary Prince Norodom Sirivudh,
who has been in France, where his mother recently died. "I think he will contest
my expulsion from Funcinpec," Rainsy said of Sirivudh, who was expected to
return to Cambodia late this week.
Also returning from a French visit is
party president and First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh - who has led
the fight against Rainsy.
Formal confirmation of long-expected moves to
expel Rainsy from the Funcinpec political party - and his seat at the National
Assembly as a Siem Reap MP - came on May 22.
Funcinpec Deputy General
Secretary Kauv Mean Hean announced that a decision to oust Rainsy from the party
was made at a May 13 meeting of Funcinpec's steering committee.
days, a letter from Ranariddh to National Assembly president Chea Sim became
public. Apparently sent twice, the first time undated and the second dated May
22, the letter informed Sim that Rainsy had "ceased being a member of the
The letter asked Sim to appoint Nou Saingkhorn, the
next person listed on Funcinpec's Siem Reap election candidacy list, as Rainsy's
As legal grounds for the expulsion, Ranariddh cited the 1991
Paris Peace Agreement, the 1992 UNTAC electoral law and the National Assembly's
But Rainsy - and an anonymous "group of lawyers"
who have circulated a legal opinion around Phnom Penh - argues that expelling an
MP is illegal.
Some sources acknowledge that there is room for
disagreement over the legal situation.
According to the Paris Peace
Accords, "party affiliation" is required for candidates to stand for election.
Whether that means those elected have to remain in their parties is
The UNTAC electoral law which governed the elections, and which
has not been annulled, says an MP who "dies or resigns or otherwise becomes
unable to serve" should be replaced by the next person on their party's original
The National Assembly's internal regulations, meanwhile,
only refer to MPs being replaced if they die, resign or abandon their work for
There is confusion over what Cambodia's constitution says
on the issue. The constitution's official English translation refers to MPs
being replaced in cases of "death, resignation or dismissal".
observers, however, say the translation from Khmer is incorrect, and that
"dismissal" should in fact read "departure". They acknowledge "departure" is not
The UN Secretary-General's representative in Cambodia, Benny
Widyono, said no UN law opinion could be given unless requested by the
government or the National Assembly.
Rainsy, meanwhile, has filed a suit
in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court arguing his sacking from Funcinpec is illegal
- a bid to prevent any decision on his expulsion from Parliament until the court
gives a verdict.
Rainsy said his expulsion from Funcinpec was decided at
a meeting of 10 out of the party's 20-member steering committee. Of those who
attended, only five - including Ranariddh - voted for the
Rainsy said he believed he had "more support than you can
imagine" within the 120-member National Assembly.
If he was expelled, so
could any other MPs who ever had difficulties with their parties, and "one day
[Second Prime Minister] Hun Sen can be expelled by Chea Sim".
never to leave the assembly under pressure, he said if he were officially
replaced, "there will be 121 MPs in Parliament... and I will sit on a portion of