Sam Rainsy has made his triumphant return to Svay Rieng, the province where he was once convicted on charges of inciting racial discrimination, and where yesterday he doubled down on the anti-Vietnamese tough talk that has long been a mainstay of his rhetoric.
Rainsy, along with two others, was found guilty by the Svay Rieng Provincial Court in early 2010 on a handful of charges — including racial incitement — for his involvement in uprooting border demarcation posts that he maintained Vietnam had been planted on Cambodian soil.
In a speech to supporters yesterday, Rainsy seemingly picked up where he left off.
“We will usher in a new era in Cambodian history to write a new page on the protection of its territorial integrity,” he said.
“Many Yuons have come. They move their border posts close into our territory,” he continued, using a sometimes-derogatory term for the Vietnamese.
“I pity Khmers very much. They have lost their farmland, because Yuons are always coming in, and the authorities do not protect their fellow Khmers at all, but protect the invading Yuons. Now they have brought Yuons to vote for Hun Sen, so Khmers should vote for Sam Rainsy to protect our territory.”
Speaking next to a car that held farmer Meas Srey — one of Rainsy’s co-defendants in the border-post case who spent nearly 10 months in jail — Rainsy questioned the validity of his conviction.
“The Yuon authorities set up demarcation markers on [Meas Srey’s] land that dates back to her ancestors, and when she joined us to pull them out, she was imprisoned,” he said. “How about Chhouk Bandith? The guy shot and injured three female workers and gets away with it instead.”
Rainsy never served any jail time on his convictions, and has spent most of the last four years in self-exile in France.
CNRP supporter Has Say, 75, said Rainsy’s stance on Vietnam had particular resonance with him. “He dares to fight against Yuons, and he has seized the land from Yuons for Cambodians,” he said.
“At my house the demarcation markers have been moving closer to my house, and if I continue to support the [Cambodian People’s Party] I will lose both the house and the land.”
However, Kao Phorn — one of the many CPP supporters dancing and blaring loud music near Rainsy’s rally — said that Rainsy had “only empty promises”.
Border committee president Var Kimhong also dismissed Rainsy’s claims of Vietnamese encroachment as merely election propaganda.
“If he says we’ve lost [land] anywhere, point it out and I will go down to see whether or not it’s been lost,” he said. “Don’t say [this] for the votes.”
But according to political analyst Lao Mong Hay, votes are precisely what Rainsy stands to gain by keeping up his anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, which plays to the concerns of a sizeable segment of Cambodians.
“People have been concerned about the continued influx of Vietnamese nationals into their country.… Not all [voters], but many,” he said, adding that the subject rarely entered the public discourse. “They talk in private — a lot.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE