Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said on Sunday there is a 50 per cent possibility that outlawed opposition leader Sam Rainsy would return to Cambodia as his diplomatic measures abroad had reached a dead-end.
In a video clip posted on his Facebook page on Sunday, Sar Kheng, who is also Minister of Interior, said it was not the first time that the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) “acting president” had vowed to return.
Rainsy, who fled the country, now lives in France to avoid arrest on a slew of criminal charges and convictions.
The public, Sar Kheng said, should not to be confused and believe that the authorities in Cambodia had deported Rainsy, stressing that deporting any Cambodian citizen was against the constitution.
He said he had never deterred Rainsy from coming back but instead had been waiting for his return to enforce the law.
“Now, he opts for the plan of return, fifty-fifty. Sam Rainsy may take a risk. But what does it mean to take the risk at this time? There is no CNRP any longer. Legally speaking, there is no CNRP."
“Sam Rainsy became the acting president of this party. What do you think about this? The party was already dissolved. Being acting president, who acknowledged him? The party was not registered at the ministry. If they request to do so, we won’t register for them,” Sar Kheng said.
He also hit back at several of Rainsy’s recent statements, particularly that he would return to the Kingdom this year.
Recently, 15 of the 24 CNRP permanent committee members held a meeting to prepare Rainsy’s return, including raising funds for the purpose.
Last week, Rainsy claimed that Sar Kheng had told him via a former US Ambassador not to return in November 2015, due to an “out of control” situation.
However, this was quickly rebutted by Sar Kheng who called Rainsy’s claim “slander made to hide his cowardice after fleeing arrest”.
Sar Kheng also questioned how Rainsy could return when he has not been pardoned by the King like on previous occasions.
He asked which port of entry Rainsy would use on his return to Cambodia, and what reasons his supporters would have to greet him.
Rainsy’s attempt to return to Cambodia and to be greeted by his supporters, Sar Kheng said, was tantamount to “a movement that leads the country to insecurity”.
“It is like this . . . because he already met a dead-end [in his measures to gain diplomatic support abroad], Sam Rainsy is finished. And if he doesn’t return, he would be finished too."
“This is what he may have thought. His international and internal [activities] are finished. So, he is exploring [his return] as a test of his support,” Sar Kheng said.
He said Rainsy was using the same old trick of announcing his return to get his supporters excited and give them hope that he is their leader and a powerful one at that.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia echoed Sar Kheng’s statements saying Rainsy’s return is “his last resort” to retain his popularity.
“But when he returns, the government will enforce the law, meaning implementing the court’s verdicts against him. This is up to 99.99 per cent possible."
And if Rainy really returned, Phea said, clashes would break out between his supporters and the authorities or between his supporters and those who do not support him.
He said Rainsy would possibly be detained at a prison far from the capital in order to avoid protests and disruption in the city.
Other analysts such as Lao Mong Hay and Ou Virak could not be reached for comment.
In the meantime, the Ministry of National Defence and many units of the Royal Cambodian Arms Forces (RCAF) condemned Rainsy for calling on the military to not obey Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the Ministry of National Defence said: “The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces will thoroughly enforce the high command and recommendation of Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia made on January 24, 2019, to destroy treasonous persons who attempt to establish a colour revolution that destroyed the peace of citizens.
“The RCAF appeals to compatriots not to believe the call of convict Sam Rainsy. We regard all activities supporting the call of convict Sam Rainsy as illegal. We are all committed to preserving security, social order and peace for our compatriots.”
The ministry reaffirmed that it is ready to implement warrants of arrest issued by the courts in Cambodia.
The military response came after Rainsy on Friday again called for the military to not obey Hun Sen’s command, saying he was an illegitimate prime minister and a dictator.
Writing on his Facebook, Rainsy said: “Please, all compatriots and every nephew who have guns in hand . . . keep those guns to defend yourselves, the citizens and Cambodian territory which is our motherland."
“All commands that force the armed forces to fire on innocent citizens who were peacefully protesting are illegal commands and inhumane. The armed forces should definitely not follow [them].”
Prime Minister Hun Sen last Thursday reminded the authorities and the military to arrest anyone who the court issued arrest warrants for “without waiting for his orders”.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan said on Sunday that Rainsy’s impending return “with millions of supporters allegedly turning up to greet him is just a lie”.
“Where are those thousands of people from? And which way will they walk to welcome convict Rainsy? This claim reflects that it is a lie, Mister lying man."
“In the Kingdom, illegitimate protests against the authorities have faced a crackdown. What possibility could there be for them to come to Phnom Penh?"
“And what about those who are working in Thailand, Korea, Malaysia? How would they come? By walking or flying?,” he asked.
Eysan called Rainsy’s vow of return to Cambodia as just “beating the drum and barrel” to make a loud sound.
Rainsy could not be reached for comment on Sunday.