Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Thursday said action will be taken against any gathering in support of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) or its sister group the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM).
A senior CNRP official on Thursday said that under the government “everything is illegal”.
Sar Kheng was speaking to the press after attending the third meeting between the Ministry of Interior and NGOs.
He said it was understandable if people gathered to talk about future elections as this was in line with the democratic process.
“However, any gathering under the umbrella of a dissolved party would be illegal and against democratic principles, as would any gathering in support of the illegal Cambodia National Rescue Movement.
“Gathering to topple a government born from elections was likewise illegal,” Sar Kheng said.
The CNRM was formed by Sam Rainsy in January last year after the dissolution of the CNRP.
Rainsy, the “acting president” of the CNRP, has announced he is to return to the Kingdom on November 9, telling supporters to get ready to welcome him.
He has said he is returning “not to be arrested but to arrest Hun Sen”. Sar Kheng did not make clear what action would be taken should Rainsy return.
“The government must ensure peace and stability, and we also have to ensure that multi-party democracy is alive in Cambodia,” he said.
He did not answer journalist’s questions on whether posters of senior CNRP leaders, including Rainsy, had been posted at border crossings.
“When illegal activities are being carried out to gather ‘people power’ to topple the government, this is wrong. It is not within their rights as stated in law,” he said.
If the government did not take action, the country could collapse into chaos and the people would suffer the unforeseen consequences, he said.
“We should not blame the government by saying it is applying pressure. But we should foresee the possible problems born from negligence. Our country could be in turmoil. Peace and stability is the most important thing, but we are still strengthening democracy,” he said.
CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua told The Post on Thursday: “Under the government’s laws, everything is illegal while the constitution protects the rights of the people.
“Change does not mean toppling the government. Peaceful and democratic change is the right of the people.”
A police officer at the Phnom Penh International Airport said on condition of anonymity that a list existed with the names of people to be arrested should they arrive.
He said he could not remember all the names on the list but Rainsy’s was included.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun on Thursday said police must take action against all illegal activities when there is clear evidence.
However, he said the police normally took a softer approach with those whose gatherings were deemed illegal, such as by educating them. He said it was normally local authorities who brought cases to court.
“Generally, [CNRP supporters] are clever. When they have a gathering, they don’t make it obvious to us that they are doing so in the name of the party.
“But if we know they are gathering in the name of the party, we will implement the law because there is no CNRP anymore,” Kim Koeun said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said there was nothing wrong with Sar Kheng saying gathering in support of the CNRP was illegal.
However, he said outlawing the CNRM should first be approved by parliament, as happened in 1990 with the Khmer Rouge.
He said the courts could also ban the CNRM “if the country is governed by the rule of law of a free society”.
Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said both the CNRP and CNRM were illegal.
He said Rainsy could return at any time as he was Cambodian, but he must face arrest because warrants had been issued by the courts.
“For those who come to welcome Rainsy in large numbers, it would be against the Law on Political Parties and the Criminal Code. They would be accused of causing turmoil and affecting national security,” Phea said.