Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy flees latest harassment

Rainsy flees latest harassment

Rainsy flees latest harassment

On the sidelines of the excitement and general satisfaction with Cambodia's change

of king, the political fallout continues for the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) after their

leader fled the country under perceived pressure from the government.

A petition was lodged this week by more than 60 members of the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) and Funcinpec requesting that Sam Rainsy be stripped of parliamentary

immunity and investigated for issuing false information that caused the king to retire.

The complaint was under preliminary investigation by a prosecutor at the Phnom Penh

Municipal Court, until National Assembly president Norodom Ranariddh called for a

suspension of the request to allow Rainsy to celebrate the coronation of Norodom

Sihamoni.

At issue is a letter Rainsy wrote to the king on October 6, warning of violent demonstrations

being plotted for the king's long-awaited return to Cambodia, then scheduled for

the following day.

Sihanouk did not return as planned and instead announced his retirement and asked

the Throne Council to be convened to appoint his successor.

Rainsy said he was tipped off about the protests by an unidentified source that he

met at Wat Lanka, who told him "the authorities", including troops and

police, would stage a demonstration, incite violence and use it as an excuse to arrest

the opposition leader.

"By divulging in time this news to Your Majesties, I was hoping to contribute

to defusing a bomb that could increase the chaos in Cambodia," wrote Rainsy

to Sihanouk, who later posted the letter on his website.

That afternoon the Ministry of Interior (MoI) hand-delivered a letter signed by co-ministers

asking Rainsy to provide them a written explanation about his concerns and demanding

to know why he hadn't first informed the government.

When a second MoI letter arrived at SRP headquarters about two hours later requesting

that Rainsy attend a meeting at 5:30 the next morning, fears of his arrest increased

and the opposition leader sought sanctuary and advice from a foreign embassy.

Rainsy was escorted to the airport and left for Bangkok that evening, later travelling

to France.

"The information, official or otherwise, indicating that the government was

going to arrest the opposition leader had been coming to the party thick and fast...

the SRP simply could not have risked his safety and freedom," said a later press

statement from party spokesman Ung Bun Ang.

The safety of its people is a real concern for the SRP, who say that over 100 members

have been murdered in the last nine years.

However, the government said Rainsy overreacted to the summons by the Ministry of

Interior.

"Writing something bad to the king is not grounds to arrest him," said

Khieu Kanharith, government spokesman and Minister of Information.

Kanharith said that Rainsy did not want Sihanouk to return because the then king

would blame him for breaking a three-way agreement brokered by the monarch in November

2003 to end a political stalemate.

But the SRP has consistently stressed the king's right to choose his own destiny.

Independent observers of Cambodian politics point to Sihanouk's concerns over his

age, health and the continuation of the monarchy as more credible motivations for

his abdication.

Comments by Sihanouk made days after the October 6 controversy also referred to clashes

between "rival republican clans", perhaps a response to prime minister

Hun Sen's comment that if a new king was not chosen by October 14, Cambodia would

have to become a republic.

But beyond the lively trade in accusations, political observers see the events of

October 6 as consistent with a pattern of intimidation against the opposition party.

"There's been attempts all along to prevent Sam Rainsy from playing a political

role, since the creation of his party [in 1995] which was named then Khmer Nation

Party," said Lao Mong Hay, head of the legal unit at the Center for Social Development.

Hay said that while the intimidation is increasing, it has shifted from physical

violence such as the 1997 grenade attack on a Rainsy-led protest that left at least

12 people dead, to what he calls the "political elimination" of more recent

times.

Despite receiving more votes in the 2003 election than the royalist Funcinpec party,

SRP was left out of the parliamentary committees this year and had no representative

on the Throne Council that appointed Norodom Sihamoni as king.

"If people are scared to come back to the country, there is a problem,"

said Dr Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee.

Even CPP insiders have admitted to the Post that the opposition has been strategically

targeted in a way designed to instill fear in the ranks of SRP sympathizers and disrupt

the party's organization and political momentum.

While analysts say the intimidation, and the SRP's public reaction to it, might be

driving prospective supporters away, the top brass at SRP see it as proof that they

are a political threat to the government.

"For the hardcore leaders of the SRP, the threats, the intimidation drives them

to continue, to persist," said Ung Bun Ang.

Soon after Rainsy's departure, the SRP wrote two letters demanding the government

clear the air over charges against Rainsy and the threat of stripping parliamentary

impunity from him and two other SRP members.

But as the Post went to press, Bun Ang said that Sam Rainsy was expected to return

for the king's coronation.

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