Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha on Sunday further distanced himself from an international conference held in the US by members of the court-dissolved opposition.
Kem Sokha said he “does not support any decision” made at the event by “supporters of Cambodia National Rescue Movement president Sam Rainsy”.
Late on Sunday, Sokha’s lawyers issued a statement after having met with their client at his home in Phnom Penh that day, saying he does not recognise the conference.
“Kem Sokha still keeps his stance the same. He does not recognise or support any organisation or decision [stemming] from the conference on December 1-2, 2018, in Atlanta, USA, by the supporters of Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement.
“The above view expressed by HE Kem Sokha is [made] not under duress or forced by anyone,” Sokha’s statement said.
Despite former party president Sokha on Wednesday “denouncing” the conference, the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP’s leadership from around the world gathered as planned over the weekend to “define an overseas CNRP strategy” to “democratically fight” for the Kingdom’s democracy.
However, pro-Sokha factions accused the conference of “splitting” the CNRP and boycotted the event. They accused those in attendance of “leaving and dropping” the CNRP to join Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM).
Rainsy on Saturday hailed the event as “historical” and applauded its goal to “rescue the Kingdom”, while former CNRP vice-president Eng Chhai Eang told supporters not to pay attention to “information” that the ex-party president, currently on bail and awaiting trial on treason charges, had denounced the event.
Last week, via his lawyers, Sokha criticised the conference, saying it was organised without the “proper mechanisms of the party”.
The conference was attended by hundreds of party representatives from around the world, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. The event was held over Saturday and Sunday in Atlanta, Georgia.
The CNRP leadership in support of Sokha boycotted the conference and issued statements criticising the weekend gathering.
On Saturday Rainsy, who also co-founded the CNRP with Sokha, referred to himself as a “guest” at the two-day “historical conference”.
“[We] gather historically in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US. This is a historical conference and I believe the results of the conference will see historical outcomes as well,” he said.
“I would like to praise and thank all participants and, as a guest, I also wish this conference succeeds in the common interest to rescue the Kingdom.”
On Sunday, Sokha met with his lawyers at his house in Phnom Penh before posting a message on his official Facebook page seemingly in response to the conference.
“I, Kem Sokha, met with my group of lawyers at my house on December 2, 2018. I have the right to let my lawyers articulate and express my opinion as an official client and in accordance with the law,” he wrote, referring to his earlier denouncement of the conference, which came via his lawyers.
However, Chhai Eang told supporters in Georgia on Saturday to not pay attention to information saying Sokha did not support the conference.
“I would like all of you to not to pay attention to information saying [Sokha] supports or does not support [the conference]. When activities are arranged and the strategy formed to save Cambodia, free Kem Sokha, reinstate the CNRP, arrange for re-elections and to take back [the CNRP’s] commune council seats, then we will see what the truth is.
“I encourage all of you to sacrifice resources and two days of your time so we can talk about how we will continue to work together to change Cambodia. We agree not to wait until 2023 as Hun Sen has ordered [after five-year bans from politics were handed down by the Supreme Court to 118 CNRP lawmakers when the party was dissolved].”
Some of the international leadership boycotted the “world conference” in support of Sokha.
Supporters claiming to be part of CNRP-USA released a statement on Friday strongly supporting Sokha’s stance that he “does not recognise the CNRM or the arranging of the conference”.
“The arrangement of the conference . . . shows clearly that some supporters and leaders of the former Sam Rainsy Party have left and quit the CNRP openly in order to join the CNRM of Sam Rainsy,” the statement said.
The CNRP was originally formed after a 2012 merger between Rainsy’s Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Sokha’s Human Rights Party (HRP) in 2012 to participate in the 2013 national elections.
“CNRP supporters in the US (CNRP-USA) appeal to the members and leaders from other states of the US to recognise and monitor the action of splitting overseas Cambodians and the CNRP altogether.”
CNRP supporters in Australia (CNRP-Australia) also released a statement on Saturday expressing “disappointment” that a group of politicians claiming themselves to be the “leaders of branches of the CNRP abroad” attended the conference despite it being publicly denounced by Sokha.
“CNRP supporters inAustralia see that the arrangement of this conference is in contrast to the bylaws of the CNRP and, though it [may] bear results, those results cannot be implemented into the framework of the CNRP."
“On the contrary, the conference is opposite to the bylaws and does not have support from the CNRP president."
"This shows that those politicians have decided to leave the CNRP and join actively with the CNRM of Sam Rainsy,” the statement said.