Sam Serey, the leader of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), who is accused by authorities of being an armed rebel leader against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has declared that he plans to “halt activities” and return to Cambodia if certain conditions are met, including the “release” of former opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Serey, who was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison in 2014 for allegedly “plotting” an attempt to overthrow the government and has been labelled a “terrorist mastermind”, formed a “government in exile” in 2016, reportedly consisting of 56 members. He was granted political asylum by Denmark in 2011.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said no law in Cambodia permits a “terrorist” who causes turmoil in the Kingdom to go free.
He labelled Serey a “fugitive” who authorities are searching for because of allegations relating to “terrorist” plots and armed activities to topple the legal government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In an interview with The Post on Sunday, the KNLF founder claimed he intends to form a legal political opposition party in Cambodia in order to take part in the democratic process if his conditions are met.
“If all political prisoners, KNLF members and [former Cambodia National Rescue Party president] Kem Sokha are released, independent media is permitted to operate again [and] the principle of multi-party democracy as stated in the Paris Peace Accords [is reinstated], I will halt my movement’s activities."
“After they offer pardons and release all KNLF members and our political party is registered, I will return to start a political career in Cambodia,” Serey said.
He said that in the past his faction had suffered “all forms of abuses and baseless allegations” from the government, while members of his group have been charged and imprisoned.
“The purpose of establishing our political party is to permit us to have rights and start a political career as an opposition party in order to mobilise all Cambodian people who support democracy and compete in future free and fair elections,” he said.
He said he has called his political party the Khmer National Liberation Party (KNLP), and that he is ready to register officially in Cambodia if the Ministry of Interior gives the green light.
“After my party is registered, once again I will continue demanding free and fair elections so that all parties can compete soon,” he said.
“If the Ministry of Interior permits me to form a political party and frees all political prisoners … these are the positive signs which will relieve the political conflict, settle it in the future and reduce pressure from the international community.”
Political analyst Meas Nee compared Serey’s situation to that of Sourn Serey Ratha, the former president of the Khmer Power Party, which was also labelled a “terrorist” group.
Serey Ratha received a pardon and returned to Cambodia but was later arrested.
The Supreme Court in May upheld a five-year prison term handed down to Serey Ratha over posting a message on Facebook in August 2017, criticising the deployment of Cambodian troops to the Lao border.
“[From what we have] witnessed, Sam Serey’s case is similar to that of Suorn Serey Ratha. When he was pardoned and returned to Cambodia as a politician, he did not have full freedom and was vulnerable to other allegations,” he said.
“Like it or not, [if Serey] acts strongly against the government, he might be imprisoned.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment, but Siphan said: “I would like to say that no law permits politicians to cause turmoil and insecurity to the country – even signatories to the Paris Peace Accords such as Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea have been sentenced by the court. Therefore, no one is above the law,” he said.
Chea and Samphan are former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge who have been jailed for life after being convicted by Cambodia’s UN-backed tribunal for crimes against humanity.