Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was denied entry into Thailand yesterday and reportedly told he would not be allowed back until after the Cambodian election.
Rainsy had been set to launch his new book We Didn’t Start the Fire: My Struggle for Democracy in Cambodia at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand tonight but said from Singapore yesterday that he had been turned away by immigration.
“They told me that I would be welcome back after the election,” he said, before declining to comment further, saying he was busy.
The FCCT stressed on its website that it was merely hosting, not sponsoring, Rainsy’s event.
“The club was given to understand that the refusal was in line with the Thai government’s policy of not allowing foreign political activity on Thai soil,” FCCT board member George McLeod said yesterday.
When asked if the Cambodian embassy had pushed Thai immigration authorities to deny Rainsy entry, Cambodian ambassador You Ay laughed and hung up on a reporter.
Thai ambassador to Cambodia Touchayoot Pakdi said he knew nothing about the incident, while officials at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.
Despite the apparent slap in the face, Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party remained quiet about the incident yesterday, with spokesman Yim Sovann saying he had no information.
Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid charges some argue are politically motivated, is not the first foreign visitor to be barred entry into Thailand under politically sensitive circumstances, though he has also previously travelled to the country without incident.
In September 2010, another event at the FCCT by the NGOs International Federation for Human Rights and Vietnam Committee on Human Rights was cancelled after the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs revoked the visas of attendees.
Political analyst Kem Ley said factors that could have influenced Thailand’s decision included the close relationship between Prime Minister Hun Sen and former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, border tensions and recent attempts by the government to link Rainsy’s party to “terrorist” movements.
“Maybe Thais are also afraid of that particular issue. Thais, they don’t want to be the [location] for political movements,” he said.