Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday raised the spectre of Thailand deporting members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who have fled the country, while also claiming no harm would come to them – a pledge that prompted sceptism among former opposition party figures yesterday.
Speaking to factory managers on Sunday in the capital, the premier initially addressed the potential ramifications for Cambodian migrant workers of stricter Thai immigration laws, which will go into effect at the start of next year.
He then seemed to turn to the subject of opposition figures in exile, saying that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should instead “chase” those people “staying in Bangkok”, in an apparent reference to ex-CNRP members who have fled.
The party was dissolved by the Supreme Court on November 16, and both before and after the decision, opposition officials were under pressure to defect to the ruling party.
“I know where you are!” he exclaimed, using a form of the first person that shows condescension for the other, before adding: “I will not do anything to you!”
He then boasted that “you will not be able to predict the step of Hun Sen!” “Not only the opposition party, but in my party, no one can predict my move.”
Reached yesterday, former Battambang CNRP lawmaker Long Botta, who is currently in Bangkok, said he had found former party members from the national and the commune level “from many provinces” in Thailand. He noted that many have left since late October in response to pressure to join the CPP, as well as threats.
“In Siem Reap province, all levels of officials fled to Thailand including commune, district and provincial and town council members,” said one former CNRP provincial-level coordinator from Siem Reap who requested anonymity. “Before leaving for Thailand, the commune chiefs told me that there are abuses, intimidation and persuasion in all forms, [including] via phone . . . so they left.”
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, yesterday denied such claims.
“I think that no one intimidates or scares or threatens, but they just felt scared by themselves . . . Believe in the boss,” he said, adding that “the government has no intention to do bad things to its own people”.
Reached yesterday, former senior opposition leader Mu Sochua said by email that the number of CNRP members who have fled is inconsequential. Of more importance, she said, are concerns of “a clear political persecution or even political cleansing”.
“Even one CNRP logo is not left standing. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, sub-national level authorities illegally implemented the court decision . . . CNRP commune chiefs were forced to leave their seats by terminating their administrative functions,” she wrote.
Though Sochua was unable to provide specific examples before press time, she claimed that commune chiefs have been the first targets of forced defection efforts by the CPP. “We have many cases. Their homes are under heavy surveillance, people are separated from their families. Our female commune [chiefs] and councillors are now away from their young children.”
Additional reporting by Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon