The Interior Ministry said it will investigate documents and a video from 2013 that resurfaced yesterday showing former opposition leader Sam Rainsy committing to upholding the rights of ethnic minorities in four northeastern Cambodian provinces, with a Justice Ministry spokesman saying it qualified as “treason”.
The material was released on government mouthpiece Fresh News and pertains to an April 2013 meeting in the United States between Rainsy, at the time the exiled president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and Kok Ksor, the head of the Montagnard Foundation Inc.
Ksor started the foundation to oppose discrimination faced by the Degar community in Vietnam, who are also known as the Montagnards. Degar is an umbrella term for indigenous minorities, which includes ethnic Jarai, who also reside in Cambodian provinces bordering Vietnam.
The document shows Rainsy and Ksor signed an agreement on “Degar Indigenous Rights in Cambodia”, which includes three articles from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples dealing with self-determination rights for minorities.
Under the agreement, a CNRP-led government would ensure these three articles – slightly amended to replace the word “self-determination” with “autonomy” – are incorporated into the Cambodian Constitution.
An accompanying short video has Rainsy declaring that minorities residing in Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng and Kratie should be allowed to enjoy their rights as any other Cambodian citizen.
“We are very grateful to the Degar. They have supported the Cambodia National Rescue Party,” he says in the video.
An interpretation presented by the Fresh News article, however, contends that Rainsy was committing to separating the four provinces from the Cambodian state.
A longer 2013 video from the signing ceremony with Ksor does not show Rainsy making any pledges to separate the four provinces or to give them independence. In it, he pledges that a future CNRP-led government would be committed to undoing the land rights abuses residents there have faced under the current Cambodian People’s Party administration.
“The Constitution of this government will give you back your land. Give you back your forests. Give you back your livelihood and dignity,” he says in this video. Much of the country’s northeast, where indigenous groups are concentrated, has been turned into rubber plantations, with many of its forests stripped of valuable timber.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Kim Santepheap did not respond to requests for comment yesterday but told Fresh News the nature of the alleged crime corresponded with Article 440 of the Criminal Code relating to “handing over to foreign state all or part of the national territory”, and is accompanied with a life sentence in jail.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said it was hard to describe the crime Rainsy had committed, but that it was now out in the open and up for investigation.
“He [Rainsy] said this long ago but he tried to hide it. But his man betrayed him [Rainsy] and revealed this,” he said, referring to screenshots posted by Facebook user Erng Rithy on a pro-CPP Facebook account. In the post, Rithy accused Rainsy of being a “puppet of Vietnam” and urged the authorities to respond.
“So, we will take legal action in response to this dirty activity, the activity has a dirty smell like his s—,” Sopheak said.
In the post, Rithy also claimed Kok Ksor was now financially supporting the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Movement, started in January by Rainsy to push for democratic change in Cambodia. Rithy did not respond to messages and the Montagnard Foundation could not be reached.
Rainsy yesterday confirmed signing the document in 2013 in an attempt to show the CNRP’s commitment to ethnic minorities, but denied any claims he was pledging to create an independent territory.
“Nobody is talking about ‘independence’ and there is no question of [a] ‘separate state’,” he said via email.
He said the use of the word “autonomy” in the agreement was to empower ethnic minorities and enforce “real decentralization”, which the CPP had failed to achieve by instead persecuting these minorities.
“Their ancestral land has been confiscated and, WITH MASSIVE DEFORESTION, their physical, social and cultural environment has been destroyed, thus uprooting and slowly killing many of those destitute people,” he said in an email, with the paragraph in question in bold font.