Sam Rainsy claimed on Thursday that his attempted return to Cambodia in November 2015 was cancelled after he received a message from the US embassy that he would face a situation “out of control”.
Rainsy has been living in France since 2016 to avoid arrest on a slew of outstanding legal cases and convictions.
“Shortly after [the announcement], I was contacted by the US Ambassador in Phnom Penh who confidentially conveyed to me a message from [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng, who apparently did not agree with Hun Sen’s treatment of me."
“Sar Kheng begged me not to come back that night of November 16 because the situation would get ‘out of control’ and he needed some time to find a compromise within the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] so as to ensure my smooth and safe return,” he said.
Rainsy claimed that he had not previously revealed this information because it involved sensitive political and diplomatic considerations. “But it can now be ‘declassified’ in order for us all to move ahead,” he said via email.
However, Sar Kheng rejected Rainsy’s claims regarding his planned 2015 return, branding it “slander made to hide his cowardice after fleeing arrest”.
“As an actor in politics, I don’t think I am that ignorant to tell Sam Rainsy not to return."
“It is completely against the Constitution and it could enable Rainsy to use it as a pretext to attack me, someone who has already received the arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy,” Sar Kheng said on Facebook on Thursday.
He said no one has barred Rainsy from returning, and that the arrest warrant was issued by the court and then announced to the public.
“Nothing was confidential,” Sar Kheng said.
Rainsy did not respond to an inquiry as to the details of his planned return, while Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached to add light regarding Rainsy’s allegations.
But adding his voice to the matter, analyst Lao Mong Hay said on Thursday: “For quite a while now, the prime minister’s words have become our laws and the duty of his officials."
“True to Mao’s maxim, ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ . . . he has more trust in his army as the mainstay of his power. An additional duty for it can only strengthen its loyalty to him."
“Considering the absence of any effort on his part to get Sam Rainsy extradited to Cambodia to serve his sentences and the strong sense of duty of our law enforcement agencies in dealing with the opposition and government critics, the prime minister’s bombastic ranting threatening to arrest Sam Rainsy upon his arrival seems superfluous."
“It is more a scare tactic to deter Sam Rainsy from returning to his homeland. The prime minister seems to be better off keeping him abroad than having him in jail in the country and having to deal with public protests.”
Meanwhile, even as Rainsy claimed he will return to Cambodia, the government said it is waiting to arrest him following the courts issuing an arrest warrant.
There have been recent indirect exchanges of messages between the government and him regarding his announced return this year.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen again made it clear that the authorities could arrest a convict anytime and anywhere without having to ask permission.
Hun Sen met with the military on Thursday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Army Headquarters in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district.
“There is no need to have an order [from me] – who the courts have issued warrants for, go arrest them, no matter [from] where they enter [the country] or wherever they are."
“They don’t need to ask Hun Sen anymore because the court’s warrant has already ordered their arrest – arrest anyone as it orders. Don’t worry about who they are."
“Why do you need to ask Hun Sen? I said do as the law allows – it’s not wrong,” he said in front of thousands of cheering soldiers.