Mu Sochua, the vice-president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said on Saturday that “acting president” Sam Rainsy and the party’s self-exiled leadership would return to the Kingdom in August or September.
However, police said eight high-ranking party officials with warrants out for their arrest would be detained, with one analyst claiming that CNRP officials faced violence or even assassination should they return.
Sochua said their return would be peaceful, non-violent and in accordance with democratic principles.
“We will return for democracy in a peaceful way as Cambodia is our nation. The CNRP planning committee has taken this joint decision after careful consideration,” Sochua told The Post on Sunday.
She said the move was intended to stave off the loss of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement and US’ Generalised System of Preferences programme.
She said the EU and the US were demanding the restoration of democracy and the release of CNRP president Kem Sokha, currently on bail facing a treason charge, if Cambodia was to retrain its access to the agreements.
“I would like to stress that the return of the CNRP leadership has begun and we will arrive back in our motherland in August or no later than September. We cannot campaign from abroad any longer. We think it is time to return to our country.
“We will return for democracy in a peaceful way as Cambodia is our nation. The CNRP planning committee has taken this joint decision after careful consideration,” Sochua said in a video streamed on Facebook Live on Saturday.
She said CNRP acting president Rainsy would return with the group because Cambodia is their motherland.
“People will maybe say: ‘You said earlier that you would not return unless this or that happened, so why have you decided to return now?’ Brothers and sisters, we will return to our country no later than 2019,” she said.
Sochua said she rejected comments from the spokesperson of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) who said the CNRP had “begged” the EU and the US to withdraw EBA and GSP respectively.
She said the EU and the US had enough information on the issues and did not need to listen to the CNRP or Rainsy.
“They clearly know that Kem Sokha is being detained. This is clear without us telling them. They put the condition that Kem Sokha must be released and then EBA access would be retained,” she said, with it now up to Prime Minister Hun Sen to save EBA.
However, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan on Sunday said Sochua’s announcement was merely a ruse to collect more money from party supporters.
He also accused the CNRP leadership of hypocrisy as it was they who had called for the Kingdom’s access to the tariff-free agreements to be removed.
“Who begged for the EU to withdraw EBA access and who begged the US to withdraw GSP? Wasn’t it the illegal rebel group who did that? Don’t reverse your words because Cambodia knows [the truth],” Eysan said.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said Sochua’s announcement could only be half-believed.
“It could be true, but I think we can believe her only 50 per cent. This is because the political situation or the government’s position is unlikely to be favourable. She may just be saying this just to hearten her supporters."
“The party’s popularity would remain the same even if they were to change their minds in the end and not return,” Sovannara said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said seeing would be believing, but if they were to return, they should be welcomed home.
“It wouldn’t be wise to speculate when a country has a political culture in which morality is a rare commodity and greed for power and wealth is subject to no restraint,” he said.
Mong Hay said he believed they would face arrest and physical violence, or even assassination by a “third hand”, should they return.
In March, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants for eight high-ranking members of the CNRP on “plotting” and “incitement” charges.
They included party co-founder Rainsy, vice-presidents Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, as well as former lawmakers Long Ry, Men Sothavarin, Ou Chanrath, Tok Vanchan and Ho Vann.
National Police spokesperson General Chhay Kim Khoeun on Sunday said the government and police were ready to act on the arrest warrants.
“It’s not a matter of how many of them come, what is important is that we arrest all of them according to the warrants. The police will be well prepared,” Kim Khoeun said.