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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rumors of Rainsy's return stir up political pot

Rumors of Rainsy's return stir up political pot

Sam Rainsy plans to return to Cambodia in early October and has called on the

government to be responsible for any violent demonstrations that may occur

against him.

The opposition leader was responding to reports that two

student organizations have filed permits to protest his return.

"I am

not worried about any incident that might occur on my return, but I have to be

cautious," Rainsy said by phone from Paris.

"If there is a demonstration

and incitement of violence against me, the government must be responsible

because the government will know who they are," he said.

Heng Samrin,

honorary vice president of the Cambodian People's Party, said the CPP and

coalition partner Funcinpec welcome the return of opposition leader.

"Whether he [Rainsy] comes back or stays [in exiled] depends on him and

he still has the right to attend meetings of the National Assembly, but when the

court needs him he must go," Samrin said.

Rainsy has been in self-imposed

exile since February 3, when the National Assembly voted to strip him and two

other opposition MPs of their parliamentary immunity. One of those MPs, Cheam

Channy, was sentenced to seven years jail for organizing a rebel army in a case

that was widely condemned by human rights observers.

Spokesman of the

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), Ung Bun-Ang, said there was concern that Rainsy might

also be linked to the rebel army charges.

"There is some risk associated

with his returning to Cambodia," Bun-Ang said. "The ruling party will try

whatever they can to put pressure on the opposition."

On September 19,

Seng Phally, president of the Cambodian Higher Education Association (CHEA),

wrote to the Phnom Penh municipality seeking permission to protest Rainsy when

he returns.

"Rainsy organized a demonstration in front of the UN; he

destroyed the honor of the government and caused a loss of [international] aid

that would effect Cambodian people as a whole," Phally said.

A day

later, University of Law and Economic Sciences professor Yok Ngoy released an

anti-Rainsy statement and said his group planned to hold a peaceful

demonstration against the opposition leader on his return.

The statement

signed by Ngoy said that Sam Rainsy was a criminal, against peace and was behind

the recruitment of an illegal army, the Committee 14 shadow ministry.

The protest threats increase the pressure against Rainsy, adding to two

defamation suits filed against him and one against his wife.

Hun Sen is

suing Rainsy for defamation for linking the prime minister to the 1997 grenade

attack on a peaceful demonstration led by Rainsy.

Funcinpec President

Prince Norodom Ranariddh is suing the opposition leader for accusing the prince

of accepting $30 million from Hun Sen in exchange for agreeing to form a

coalition government with the CPP.

More recently, the chief of Hun Sen's

bodyguard unit, Hing Bun Heang, also lodged a complaint against Rainsy's wife,

Tioulong Saumura, and party secretary-general Eng Chhay Eang, alleging

defamation for connecting him to the 1997 grenade attack.

Hun Sen warned

August 15 that the issue of the shadow army will not finish with Channy, which

some members of the opposition considered a threat to Rainsy.

However,

military investigation judge Pork Pan said September 20 that since Channy's

imprisonment police have not started any new investigations into others

connected to the allegations of a shadow army.

Keo Remy, an opposition

parliamentarian, said the defamation lawsuits and the allegations of the shadow

army were attempts by the ruling coalition to take political revenge against the

SRP for trying to address the issue of corruption in the government.

"I

think that my president would be arrested when he is in Cambodia, because the

legal process will be done in a minute when the ruling parties are not happy,"

Remy said. "I think that before Rainsy decides to come back, he must make his

safety a priority."

It is unclear what will happen to the opposition

party if Rainsy does not return soon.

On the optimistic end of the

spectrum, Bun-Ang said that the party has functioned for seven months without

Rainsy, and there is no need for him to be in the country all the time.

But Khem Veasna, a former opposition parliamentarian who was ousted by

the party in July, told the Post that the SRP has been ruined by the nepotistic

allocation of positions.

"I tried to push for reform and encouraged them

to manage human resources at all levels of the party's mechanism, instead of

promoting relatives," Veasna said.

He predicted that SRP would not

increase the number of seats it controls in the National Assembly at the next

national election in 2008.

Khem's claims were met with laughter by

Bun-Ang, who said the party had few high-ranking positions to offer and Veasna's

comments were the result of factional battles within the SRP.

"Like any

organization there are always factions. But the issue is how we manage those

factions, and I think that the SRP has been doing well in term of managing the

factions within the party."

The major factional rift within the SRP is

seen to pit Sam Rainsy and his supporters against Eng Chhay Eang and his

followers.

Chea Poch, one of the SRP members stripped of parliamentary

immunity, dismissed the criticisms.

"I don't care whatever the other

people say - working harder with the villagers in the constituency will prove

whether the party is strong or weak," Poch said.

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