The Phnom Penh Municipal Court said on Monday that Sam Rainsy missed a court date on a treason charge after agreeing to let Vietnamese ethnic minorities settle in Cambodia’s northeastern provinces with “autonomy”.
The former leader of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was summonsed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Ros Piseth to appear on August 13.
However, on Monday Piseth said Rainsy had failed to turn up in court and had not given a reason for his absence.
“We did not receive any response [from Rainsy]. We will proceed with the next step of the process, which I cannot reveal because it’s against the law for me to do so,” Piseth said.
Rainsy has been living in France since late 2015 to avoid a slew of criminal charges.
Monday’s court date stemmed from a video clip showing him and the president of the Montagnard Foundation, Kok Ksor, signing an agreement to let Montagnard minorities settle with “autonomy” in Cambodia’s northeastern provinces of Kratie, Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri and Stung Treng.
The video was filmed in 2013, and in the clip Rainsy claims that the Montagnard people supported the CNRP.
The court charged him in March with “attempting to deliver to a foreign state, whole or part of national territory” in accordance with Articles 27 and 440 of the Criminal Code. The charge could see him sentenced to life in prison should he be found guilty.
In an email on Monday, Rainsy claimed the charge against him was brought by “ignorant” and “unprofessional” people.
“Hun Sen and the judges at his Kangaroo Court are ignorant people, really unprofessional on this issue (and many others) [Rainsy’s brackets]. “They have never read the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the world body in 2007.
“I only referred to this Declaration when dealing with ethnic minorities in Cambodia’s Northeast. For this UN reference they accuse me of ‘treason’!” he claimed.
In 2013, Rainsy met with pro-Montagnard activist Ksor and, mostly quoting from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, he promised a degree of “autonomy” to the ethnic groups should his now-dissolved party win power.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials interpreted that meeting as an agreement to cede the four provinces to the Montagnards, something Rainsy has denied.
Montagnards is an umbrella term meaning “mountain people” that includes several ethnic minority groups stretching from Vietnam’s central highlands into northeastern Cambodia. It includes the Ksor’s Jarai people.
Hundreds of Vietnamese Montagnards have fled to Cambodia from Vietnam in the past few years seeking asylum from persecution.