Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday praised former ruling party president Chea Sim, who died on Monday, calling him a national hero and comparing his patriotic ideals to those of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
Speaking to reporters after paying his respects at the former Senate president’s house in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district, Cambodia National Rescue Party president Rainsy lauded the former Cambodia People’s Party factional heavyweight, once considered the second-most powerful man in government after Prime Minster Hun Sen.
“I have always respected Samdech Chea Sim after the 1993 election,” Rainsy said.
“I have followed and supported Samdech Chea Sim’s stance because Samdech Chea Sim has always glorified national reconciliation. We do not forget Samdech Chea Sim’s recommendation, we will follow his recommendation.”
Rainsy – previously a fierce critic of the CPP who has of late softened his stance amid a detente with Prime Minister Hun Sen – likened Sim to the popular King Sihanouk, who, he said, considered Sim a little brother.
He added the pair shared the “royal ideal” of Cambodian unity.
“We are Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk’s children and grandchildren, and we see that the two heroes always gave a good model to us that we must follow,” Rainsy said.
He also shared details of a meeting at Sim’s villa last year, saying Sim told him to “unite all Cambodian patriots to defend our nation”.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, which this week released a statement scrutinising Sim’s involvement in “serious crimes” during and after the Khmer Rouge years, said Rainsy could say what he liked, but Sim’s evasion of punishment was indicative of a wider problem.
“I think a dispassionate view of the situation would come out with a critical analysis of Chea Sim and not only his time in power, but also his time in the Khmer Rouge,” Robertson said.
“Politics is politics, there’s obviously various different people who are saying things that contradict what they were saying just a year or two ago. But let’s focus on the fundamental issue of what Chea Sim and other people like him, former Khmer Rouge cadre, did.”
Meanwhile, Rainsy also commented on Hun Sen’s recent challenge for him to swear an oath the Preah Ang Danker statue near the Royal Palace over the CNRP’s accusations that the CPP rigged the election and that the Cambodian Red Cross was politically motivated in its disbursement of aid.
According to tradition, Rainsy – who accepted the dare – would be struck by lightning if the allegations were false, Hun Sen said at the time.
Although not backing out, Rainsy explained that the country should be run on “the law, technology and science” and not based completely on “superstitions”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING SHAUN TURTON