Officials said Thursday that the National Assembly will move to strip opposition leader Sam Rainsy of his parliamentary immunity on Monday after his removal of posts marking the border with Vietnam last month.
Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said parliament would remove the Sam Rainsy Party president’s constitutional protection to pave the way for the Svay Rieng provincial court to summon him in relation to the posts’ removal, which could be seen as threatening national security.
“The Assembly will convene on Monday to strip Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity,” Cheam Yeap said, adding that the decision was made at an Assembly standing committee meeting on Thursday. “We are doing this in conformity with procedure, following the request of the court and the Ministry of Justice.”
During a Buddhist Kathen ceremony in Svay Rieng province on October 25, Sam Rainsy led local villagers and SRP officials in uprooting six wooden posts marking the country’s ambiguous border with Vietnam. Villagers said the Vietnamese had illegally shifted the posts onto Cambodian soil. Sam Rainsy’s action prompted a storm of protest from Hanoi, which said he had interfered in the two countries’ sensitive border-demarcation process.
Sam Rainsy said he is not scared of government threats to his parliamentary immunity, and that the action will shed more light on the country’s problems with Vietnam at a time when people are distracted by the conflict with Thailand.
“Hun Sen’s government’s strategy nowadays is to draw the interest towards the West rather than the East. I want to draw the public’s attention towards [Vietnam] as well because there are also serious issues in the East,” Sam Rainsy said by phone from Paris.
“At this time, our Khmers have to be unified to defend our territorial integrity – both the West and East,” he added.
Rights groups opposed the decision to strip Sam Rainsy of his immunity, repeating the SRP leader’s statement that the markers he uprooted were not official border markers.
“It is a political issue because those posts were not legal, official posts,” said Vibol Sim, the national project coordinator for the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, agreed that parliament had no real grounds to strip Sam Rainsy’s immunity.
“This action is just intended to show political muscle. It will only prompt more and more criticism,” he said.