After three weeks abroad fundraising, Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha yesterday returned to Cambodia, using his first day home to visit imprisoned opposition activists and appeal for calm amid simmering political tensions.
Speaking to reporters outside Prey Sar prison, Sokha said the party would shift its focus away from politically sensitive subjects and instead focus on winning the election.
As such, he declined to discuss the controversial Vietnam border issue or reveal specifics of any negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to free the 15 opposition inmates he visited.
“Our plan is to let the political situation cool back down,” Sokha said, adding the party would “focus on the election”.
“Myself, I have never raised the map problem or border problem, because I think that it is not the resolution. The resolution will be when [the CNRP] wins the election.”
The statement echoes remarks by Sam Rainsy when the CNRP president visited the opposition prisoners prior to his and Sokha’s tour of Australia and New Zealand to raise cash for the opposition’s planned television station Sun TV.
The trip came soon after the arrest of Sam Rainsy Party Senator Hong Sok Hour for a border-related Facebook post.
He joined 14 other CNRP activists jailed for their role in a violent anti-government protest in Freedom Park last year, 11 of whom were given lengthy prison sentences in July.
The opposition sees the crackdown as retaliation for their campaigning against Vietnamese encroachment and their questions about the legitimacy of the map used to demarcate the eastern border.
Responding to reporters, Sokha could not say whether any CNRP inmates would be granted bail or released during the Pchum Ben festival.
He said talks with Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng in August had appeared to improve the detainees’ prospects, although the worsening of the political mood since had not helped matters.
“Importantly, my target is to cool the atmosphere first,” he said.
“We will turn to talk about the election issue first to cool things down. We do not want to collect more problems to make heat,” Sokha said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan reiterated the government’s position that CNRP figures in prison were not political prisoners but had broken the law.
Thus, he ruled out negotiations for their release, saying it would undermine the judicial process.
He dismissed Sokha’s efforts to lower tensions. “But if he wants to heat [things up] or not it is his business . . . the [Cambodian] People’s Party is not interested in this situation,” Eysan said.