PRIME Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the opposition Sam Rainsy Party yesterday, criticising it for attempting to attract local and international intervention in cases against exiled leader Sam Rainsy.
The comments, delivered during a ceremony inaugurating a new bridge on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, came three days after Senate President Chea Sim wrote a letter to the SRP’s Acting President Kong Korm, informing him that he would not petition the government to allow Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia under renewed parliamentary immunity.
Sam Rainsy, who is currently abroad, was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail after an incident in October last year in which he helped villagers uproot wooden demarcation poles near the Vietnamese border.
Kong Korm wrote to Chea Sim on September 11, saying that the Senate had a “duty” to try to broker a compromise that would pave the way for Sam Rainsy’s return.
But the premier said yesterday that Sam Rainsy should stop trying to avoid serving time in prison.
“If you don’t come to jail, the prison will go to take you,” he said. “In recent days [the SRP] tested Samdech Chea Sim, but Samdech Chea Sim responded that [he would] let the court proceed with its job.”
Hun Sen said he believed the SRP had expected him to respond personally after Kong Korm sent the letter to the Senate, and that this expectation was contradictory because the SRP had “cursed me every day as a puppet” of Vietnam.
He said that the opposition party should not expect his help to resolve Sam Rainsy’s case if it truly believed he was powerless.
“I am a puppet, I don’t have a right to resolve it,” he said.
He said the SRP had also sought help from the United States, but that he was unconcerned about the issue being raised during his upcoming visit to America.
“Another test is that they will use international [pressure], including the president of the United States,” he said. “In four more days I will meet US President Barack Obama. What will he say to me?”
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that Sam Rainsy had not formally requested help from the US, but that he had “met with several US congressmen” in recent months, with whom he had discussed his sentence. Yim Sovann said the party had also sought help from the United Nations and the United Kingdom.
“We appeal to all independent countries to put pressure on the government,” he said, and added that, as development partners, the international community had a “duty” to pressure the government to resolve the case.
“Sam Rainsy is the president of the major opposition party. We cannot say that Cambodia is a democratic country when the opposition leader has been sentenced by the court for political reasons,” he said. “Everbody knows that the court in Cambodia is not independent.”
Yesterday’s ceremony marked the opening of the Prek Phnov bridge, which links National Roads 5 and 6A, and is intended to ease congestion around the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge.
The premier said yesterday that the Ly Yong Phat Group, which is owned by ruling party senator and business tycoon Ly Yong Phat, invested US$42.5 million in building the bridge. He noted that while motorcycle drivers and pedestrians can use the bridge free of charge, the company will charge a toll of 5,700 riels (US$1.34) for small vehicles, such as minivans and cars, and 34,000 riels (US$8) for large trucks.
“The LYP Group will have to transfer the bridge to the government [after 30 years] and the government will consider whether to continue charging the fee or not,” he said.
Yim Sovann said yesterday that private companies should not finance public infrastructure with the intention of charging for its use.
“In this country people pay taxes for road maintanence,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to pay tolls for national roads.”
The LYP company also owns a toll bridge in Koh Kong province.