An announcement from the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that its “acting president” Sam Rainsy would return to the Kingdom on November 9 was dismissed on Sunday as “political warfare”.
The CNRP made the announcement on Friday after a permanent committee meeting chaired by Rainsy, who is in Australia, where he spoke to supporters about his decision.
“I am honestly telling you, brothers and sisters, that yesterday I made the most important decision of my life that I must return to our homeland. [I go] to help Cambodians at all cost,” he said, adding that the situation was right for him to cease campaigning from overseas and return home.
Ou Chanrith, the former CNRP lawmaker who has been appointed the spokesperson for the Rainsy return working group, said on Sunday that November 9 was chosen because it was the Cambodian Independence Day and commemorated the achievements of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk in ending French colonisation of the Kingdom.
He said the two months left would be enough for preparations, including diplomatic and internal work, as well as preparing people.
“I believe that we will not face arrest on our return because we go back to solve the nation’s problems. I and other [former CNRP] leaders consequently believe there will be no arrests.
“We have two months and we will continue discussing what may happen,” Chanrith said.
On many previous occasions, Rainsy had announced plans to return to Cambodia but reneged on his promises. He vowed to return late last year as the forfeit in a wager with Prime Minister Hun Sen but didn’t.
He had bet that CNRP president Kem Sokha would be released in March. With Sokha still on bail at his home, Rainsy claimed the terms of the bet had been changed and he would no longer return.
However, Chanrith said Rainsy had never previously set a clear date for his return, and only did so now.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun hailed Rainsy’s latest announcement as “good news”.
“If we talk about law enforcement, implementing court warrants and exercising the rule of law, this is good news because the police will arrest him should he return.
“He has made this announcement, but I don’t believe he will return. But it also has negative impacts. He has made this announcement to incite his supporters in the country to rise up.
“What he is trying to do is make things difficult for the local authorities. His activists whisper about this and that and cause problems. They seek to mobilise people to welcome him back,” Kim Khoeun said.
The police would, without fail, arrest him as he had many outstanding arrest warrants, he said.
Social analyst Meas Nee said even though an exact date had been set, Rainsy’s claim of returning was merely “political warfare”.
He said November 9 had been chosen to observe developments regarding the possible withdrawal of the EU’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.
It was also to see if there were any developments regarding the “Cambodia Democracy Act 2019” that was passed by the US House of Representatives last month.
Nee said Rainsy was also waiting to see if any social problems arose from the possible withdrawal of EBA.
“Returning in this environment would seem to have no benefit for him besides being arrested and put in jail.
“But if he has other strategies, such as going to a neighbouring country to see if he would be arrested there and extradited to Cambodia, this would make the Phnom Penh government concerned,” he said.
Nee said the Cambodian government would face pressure internationally should Rainsy be arrested, and locally should a withdrawal of EBA lead to job losses.
Should Rainsy cancel his return without a satisfactory reason, his promises would be revealed to be empty, he said.
However, he said the CNRP leadership could use the government prohibiting Rainsy from entering the country without arrest as grounds for not returning.
“I think the second scenario is likely. I believe the Cambodian government doesn’t want to see Rainsy’s presence in the country, even in jail, because this would make it harder to control the situation,” Nee said.
Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said on Sunday that the announcement of the return of the top CNRP leadership was meant to show its members that they were still active overseas and that they should be alert.
It was also an attempt to worry the government, he said.
“But the government should not care about a person like Rainsy. It enforces the law, and the state has the rule of law. If he comes, he will be arrested and put in jail.
“If they were to care about it, then it would mean Rainsy has become more popular. If he is strong like Kem Sokha then he should just come back,” Touch said.
He said November 9 was nevertheless the last chance for Rainsy to prove whether or not he was “powerless”.
Meanwhile, a former CNRP district councillor in Kampot province’s Chhouk district was arrested on Saturday after a warrant was issued by the local court.
Nut Pich, 63, a former CNRP deputy chief executive for Chhouk district, was detained for violating the Supreme Court ruling disbanding the party and “mobilising and incitement to commit offences”.
Pich committed the offences between April and May in Kampot’s Dang Tong district, said the warrant issued by Investigating Judge Y Kheag and dated May 17.
Kampot provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith said Pich was placed in pre-trial detention on Saturday.