Khmer News in En

Interview: 'International Intervention at This Stage is Vital'

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy, who has been forced to live in exile since 2015 in the face of questionable defamation charges made against him, spoke with Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service from New Zealand on Sept. 20 about the recently formed Association for Democracy in Cambodia and other recent political developments.

RFA:  What is the purpose of your current trip to New Zealand and Australia?

Sam Rainsy: The trip is part of my mission to build the Association for Democracy in Cambodia, which is comprised of people around the world. I am also visiting Australian and New Zealand officials, including the Mayor of Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand. They are strong supporters of democracy in Cambodia.

RFA:  How does the Association operate?

Sam Rainsy: The Association, which is based in Paris, France, is nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Its main objective is to promote democracy in Cambodia, and this would include voter education. It is meant to promote free and fair elections.

RFA:  Many around the world feel that democracy in Cambodia is on its deathbed. How optimistic are you that it can be revived?

Sam Rainsy:  I haven’t lost hope, as the situation may change in the near future. Cambodians around the world are calling on the world to help ensure that Cambodia’s next national election is free and fair so that democracy can flourish. I am communicating with influential people in different countries who are interested in Cambodia, and am asking them to join hands in pressuring and warning Cambodian authorities to guarantee an election that is internationally recognized as free and fair.

Any government formed from a fraudulent election will not be legitimate. I want to take this opportunity to encourage every Cambodian to register to vote. I am doing my own part to ensure that the election is free and fair. We are making efforts to bring the current political situation back to normalcy. In the meantime, may I once again call on every Cambodian to register to vote. Don’t get carried away or distracted by current developments.

RFA:  Now that [CNRP party leader] Kem Sokha is under detention, have you been approached by any officials in the government to discuss this situation?

Sam Rainsy:  I strongly rule out any possibility that the CNRP can be divided. I am committed to remaining loyal to my people and my country. No one can buy me. I am not intimidated. Members of the Association for Democracy in Cambodia also include foreign nationals who want Cambodia to have democracy.

RFA:  There is no way you would abandon Kem Sokha and support Hun Sen?

Sam Rainsy: The authorities should release Kem Sokha and all political prisoners. We will not discuss any issues other than their release.

RFA:    Hun Sen now says that he is trying to prevent history from repeating itself. He says that he is preventing the U.S. from harming Cambodia again, referring to America’s bombings in Cambodia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He appears to be encouraging the CPP’s young supporters to be ready to take to the streets to protest against the U.S. embassy. What do you think about his position here?

Sam Rainsy: They are only diverting people’s attention from the real danger that Cambodia faces The U.S. and Western countries don’t pose any risk to us. It is our neighboring country [referring apparently to Vietnam] that does this. It continues to attempt to swallow our land. It is making us fight each other, and when we fight each other we will be weak and vulnerable and dependent on its help. It even infiltrates undercover agents among us. This is the real danger.

We also face another great danger, as Hun Sen’s regime is behaving like that of Pol Pot. Hun Sen is building a close alliance with China. Pol Pot used to be very close to China, too. Under Pol Pot, millions of Cambodians were killed. The U.S. has never intended to swallow Cambodia. They have never destroyed Cambodian forests. They have never stolen Cambodian assets.

The [Vietnam] war is over, and the U.S. and the rest of the Free World are sincerely helping Cambodia. They help Cambodia in various sectors, including in economic development and the promotion of democracy. They are not our real enemies. It is wrong to accuse the U.S. The current regime is like Pol Pot’s regime, for it is killing people silently. They grab people’s land. They engage in corruption. Our forests are being destroyed, and many Cambodians are unemployed.

More than a million Cambodian workers have migrated to other countries to find work. And foreign immigrants are flooding into Cambodia at a time when Cambodians are leaving their own motherland.This is a silent killing. Those who collude with foreigners to kill Cambodians like this are nothing short of  traitors. Those who promote democracy and human rights with the assistance of international organizations should not be treated as traitors.

RFA:  You once agreed to stop calling Hun Sen a puppet of Vietnam. But now, Hun Sen considers Cambodian opposition leaders to be puppets of the U.S. Do you still consider Hun Sen to be a Vietnamese puppet? Or have you changed your mind?

Sam Rainsy:   I don’t care what Hun Sen calls the CNRP’s leaders. To me, anyone who serves foreign interests, either consciously and subconsciously, is a traitor. They destroy our national interest. One should understand what treason means. People who cede our land to our neighboring country, and who destroy our national assets by arbitrarily selling them for personal gain, are committing acts of treason. Those who make Cambodia lose its independence and sovereignty and who are moved by foreign influence to betray their own peoples’ common interests are traitors.

RFA:  The political situation in Cambodia is tense now. Kem Sokha has been charged with treason, which is a very heavy charge. What do you think could reduce tensions at this point?

Sam Rainsy:  I think we need to resort to the same scenario employed after the 1997 coup [which placed Hun Sen in power]. The situation is deteriorating badly, which warrants international intervention to revive our dying democracy. Hun Sen is like an abscess that is at its final stage and which definitely requires an operation without which the pain will endure for a much longer period.

RFA:  Don’t you think the international community has become tired of intervening in Cambodia’s affairs time and again?

Sam Rainsy: They should not be too tired, as they have not intervened since 1997. Now the situation in Cambodia situation is deteriorating, which is jeopardizing the entire region. The current ruler is compromising everything for the sake of maintaining his own power. International intervention at this stage is vital.

Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Edited in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodian Opposition Politicians Barred From Visiting Kem Sokha in Jail

Cambodian opposition party lawmakers were turned away from a prison in the country’s Tbong Khmum province on Monday following a failed second attempt to visit jailed CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is being held on a charge of treason, sources said.

The request to visit Kem Sokha was turned down by the investigating judge in the case, who said that only the party leader’s family members and lawyers may see him before his trial.

The group had previously tried to visit on September 11.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) parliamentarian Mao Monyvann said that party members and constituents will continue to travel to the province’s remote Trapeang Phlong prison each Monday to show their support.

“People always ask that we relay their message to Kem Sokha that they are with him, and are upset that the country’s constitution was violated by his arrest,” Mao Monyvann said.

Arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh early on Sept. 3, Kem Sokha was accused of treason in a move critics say shows prime minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.

He was formally charged on September  5.

The jailed opposition leader remains in good health, though, Mao Monyvann told RFA.

“We have not been able to meet with him since his arrest, but what I have learned from family members and his lawyers is that he is in good health. He remains both physically and mentally strong,” he said.

“He sends this message to the public:  That the authorities can restrict his freedom, but they can never restrict the freedom of Cambodia’s people.”

Violation of privacy

Lawyers for the jailed party chief meanwhile asked the investigating court on Sept. 15 to remove a surveillance camera installed in Kem Sokha’s private cell, calling the camera’s presence in the room a violation of his right to privacy.

“This is a severe intrusion,” Som Sokong, one of Kem Sokha’s lawyers, told RFA. “[Kem Sokha’s] daily activities, including when he changes his clothes, are all being taped. This is unacceptable,” he said.

“We have asked that the camera be removed.”

Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesperson Som Sokong defended the surveillance, however, saying that the camera had been placed there for Kem Sokha’s own good.

“Kem Sokha is the key player in an evil plot by a superpower,” he said, alluding to government charges that the CNRP leader had conspired with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen in a so-called “color revolution.”

“That superpower may now want to kill him to remove the evidence of their plot.”

“Kem Sokha is nothing but an orange whose juice has already been squeezed, and there is no further use for him,”  Sok Eysan said.

“So I would like to ask his lawyers how they can be sure he’ll be safe if the camera is removed. Tell me how,” he said.

A hearing on Kem Sokha’s appeal against his provisional detention will be held on September 26.

Protest in Europe

Over 200 Cambodians living in France, Holland, Austria, Germany, and Belgium meanwhile protested on Monday in Brussels, asking European governments to put pressure on Hun Sen to immediately free Kem Sokha and other jailed Cambodian prisoners of conscience.

“We call on European countries to freeze the bank accounts of all corrupt government officials [in Cambodia] and to impose a visa ban on them and their families,” protest spokesperson Thhai Makarar said.

“European countries respect human rights and democracy, so we should not allow human rights abusers to set foot in these countries,” he said.

Further protests will be carried out in front of the offices of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 26, Thhai Makarar said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodian Environmental NGO Disbands, Citing Threats

The Cambodia-based environmental group Mother Nature was formally shut down on Friday at the request of its director, Buddhist monk Prum Thomacheat, who said that he and other members were being threatened by government authorities over their activism.

The group has now had its name removed from an Interior Ministry registry, group founder Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA’s Khmer Service on Sept. 15.

Prum Thomacheat and another monk who served as the group’s secretary “have been subject to systematic threats for the past three years, from October 2014 until the present day,” Gonzalez-Davidson said, speaking from Spain where he has lived since being expelled from Cambodia in 2015.

Gonzalez-Davidson had asked the two monks, both Cambodian citizens, to serve in these roles “as the Ministry of Interior wouldn’t allow me [as a foreigner] to establish an organization on my own or stand as that organization’s director,” he said.

“Since then, they have faced charges and were almost sent to jail once. Therefore, the two venerable monks have decided to dissolve the organization so that they will not be persecuted or face threats of being jailed,” he said.

Registered with Cambodian authorities in 2013, Mother Nature has worked over the years to protect Cambodia’s environment, exposing irregularities in Cambodia’s trade in dredged sand with foreign countries and helping villagers organize to protect their land.

Jailed, harassed

Several of the group’s members have been harassed and jailed over the years.

On Sept. 13, a Koh Kong provincial court detained Mother Nature activists Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak on charges of inciting others to “commit crimes” and violations of privacy. The pair were taken into custody while taking photos of dredging operations along the Cambodian coast carried out by a firm linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

And in July 2016, activists Try Sovikea, 28, San Mala, 26, and Sim Somnang, 31, were sentenced to 18 months in jail for threatening to destroy a barge belonging to the sand-dredging company Direct Access the year before.

They were released when a judge suspended the last eight months of their sentences, and they subsequently filed an appeal against a $25,000 fine they were ordered to pay.

Though Mother Nature has disbanded as an organization, the group’s activists will now carry out operations on an independent and voluntary basis, Gonzalez-Davidson said.

“We have evolved into a movement,” Gonzalez-Davison said. “And so the removal of our name from the Interior Ministry’s registry will not affect our activities at all.”

“We will continue to carry out our activities as usual,” he said.

Reported by Zakaria Tin and Neang Ieng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Hun Sen Asks US Peace Corps to Pull Out of Cambodia

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United States on Friday to withdraw its Peace Corps volunteers from his country a day after he said he was suspending cooperation with Washington to find the remains of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

“It’s good if you pull out the Peace Corps,” Hun Sen said as he stepped up his criticism of Washington at a gathering of 10,000 garment workers at Vattanac Industrial Park on the southwestern outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The Peace Corps was established in 1961 to promote world peace and good will. It has been operating in Cambodia since 2006, involved mostly in English-language teaching and health-care training. About 500 Americans have participated in such stints so far.

As Hun Sen made the announcement, the U.S. embassy was swearing in 71 new volunteers from the Peace Corps, Reuters news agency reported.

On Thursday, he announced a suspension of a long-running search for more than 40 missing-in-action soldiers during the Vietnam War, saying the action was in retaliation for the U.S. decision earlier this week to halt issuing visas to senior Cambodian foreign ministry officials and their families.

Washington issued the visa suspension after Phnom Penh said it would not take back Cambodian nationals being deported by the United States after being convicted of crimes.

Relations between the U.S. and Cambodia are at a new low.

‘Misleading, baseless’ charges

Hun Sen charged recently that the United States had conspired with Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha to try to overthrow his government.

The Cambodian authorities arrested Kem Sokha on Sept. 3, charging him with treason.

In a strong response, Washington’s ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt branded Hun Sen’s claims as “inaccurate, misleading and baseless” and called for Kem Sokha’s release.

He also called for an end to pressure on Cambodian civil society and for dialogue between the government and opposition to “salvage” elections scheduled in 2018, where Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party could face a stiff challenge from Kem Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Hun Sen also recently forced the closure of The Cambodia Daily, an independent English-language newspaper, over alleged unpaid tax bills as well as about a dozen radio stations that broadcast opposition voices or programming by the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America.

Radio Free Asia announced this week that it would close its nearly 20-year old bureau in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, saying Hun Sen’s authoritarian government had made “false statements” and used “intimidating rhetoric” to pressure its local bureau, including allegations of tax and registration violations.

But RFA said it would continue reporting on Cambodia as part of its mission to provide accurate and timely news and information on Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.

‘No pressure applied’

The Cambodian Information Ministry denied that the government had applied pressure on RFA and warned that any RFA reporter continuing to work for RFA within Cambodia would be regarded as “spies.”

“In the name of the Ministry of Information, I would like to completely deny that the ministry has put pressure or restricted freedom against Radio Free Asia (RFA) or other media outlets,” ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng told a press conference.

“This is the point that the Ministry of Information would like to clarify to the public in regard to RFA’s statement.”

He indicated that the closure of the RFA office in Phnom Penh would make its reporters’ work in the country illegal.

“If they want to work from such darkness, they should be held accountable before the law of our country… whether the law permits them to do so,” he said.

“For me, if RFA [reporters] join our [press conference] here today, I welcome them. But from tomorrow on I won’t, because they have decided to stop working in Cambodia. ”

Reported by Moniroth Morm and translated by Sovannarith Keo for RFA’s Khmer Service.

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Cambodia Cooperating With US on Deportations, Foreign Ministry Says

Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed surprise on Thursday at a U.S. decision to deny visas to senior members of the Cambodian government, denying accusations that it has ended cooperation with United States efforts to repatriate Cambodian nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. and calling linkage of the two issues “unreasonable.”

“Cambodia is still prepared to accept its nationals who will be deported by the US and will try by all means to ensure that those Cambodians will be successfully reintegrated into society and begin their new lives with the fullest decency and dignity,” the foreign ministry said in its Sept. 14 statement.

Striking a more defiant note, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said however that Cambodia will now retaliate against U.S. moves to refuse entry to Cambodian diplomats and other officials, adding that he has ordered suspension of a joint program to recover and send home the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

“So far, only 40 [of these] have been found, and there remain around 40 more,” Hun Sen said in a Sept. 14 interview with government-aligned Cambodian media outlet Fresh News. “Cooperation in this search will now be placed under suspension, pending the settlement of, and improvements in, various issues between Cambodia and the U.S.”

The U.S. action on visas for officials—which also covers Eritrea, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—stems from a law under which convicted felons of foreign nationality are deported after they have served their prison sentences.

‘Ready to travel’

Addressing a meeting on Thursday at Cambodia’s Royal School of Administration, foreign minister Prak Sokhon said that Cambodian officials are ready to travel to the U.S. to interview 26 Cambodian nationals now subject to deportation, adding that he had earlier asked that deportees be given job training in the U.S. before being sent home.

He had also requested that returns be made only on a voluntary basis, he said.

“But our demands could not be met.”

“Therefore, so that this program will not be interrupted, we have officials ready to travel to the U.S. to interview those 26 people who are now subject to deportation. We have never refused to take them back, but we just want to make sure that they are truly Khmers, and not Vietnamese or Laotians,” he said.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Soeung Senkarona—a senior investigation official for the Cambodia-based ADHOC rights group—said that Cambodians living in the United States should be careful not to break U.S. laws., as they could then be forced home.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government should welcome back any who are deported, he said.

“We want Cambodia and the U.S. to resume their cooperation, especially in regard to issues of human rights violations and the upholding of democracy,” he said.

Reported by Vuthy Tha and Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodia Urges US to Rethink Policy of Denying Visas Over Felon Repatriation Dispute

Phnom Penh on Wednesday voiced regret about a U.S.  decision to stop issuing visas to senior Cambodian foreign ministry officials and their families, urging Washington to reconsider the policy and offering to send a delegation to discuss the cases of 26 nationals whom the United States wants to repatriate.

The U.S. action — which also covered Eritrea, Sierra Leone and Guinea — stems from a law under which convicted felons of foreign nationality are deported after they have served their prison sentences.

Cambodia under a 2002 agreement with the United States has accepted the repatriation of about 500 such returnees, with another 1,000 slated for a similar fate.

In April, however, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United States to end its practice of forcibly repatriating convicts to the Southeast Asian nation, a policy he said “splits up families of our Cambodian people.”

“Cambodia regrets that the government of the United States decided to place Cambodia on its list of ‘non-cooperative’ countries,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

It called the U.S. decision “not in conformity with the spirit of good cooperation on the repatriation program between the two countries” and said that Cambodian calls to renegotiate the 2002 agreement did not mean it had terminated cooperation.

Cambodia is willing to dispatch a delegation the United States to interview 26 “remaining individuals” raised in recent discussions in Phnom Penh, it said, without elaborating.

“The ministry anticipates that the government of the United States would reconsider its above-said decision in order to promote friendly relations and good cooperation between the two countries,” it said.

Cambodian political commentator Meas Ny told RFA’s Khmer Service the U.S. policy reflects increasing tensions between Washington and Phnom Penh and will “truly affect senior ranking government officials as they are banned from traveling to visit their families there.”

“Most of them have their families, spouses, children or residences in the U.S. Therefore, when the visa is banned they cannot travel to or enter the U.S., and in particular these officials will find it hard to attend any meetings or to serve diplomatic purposes in the U.S.” he said.

The U.S. and other Western countries have condemned Hun Sen’s spiraling crackdown on the political opposition and civil society, including the Sept. 3 arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha, ahead of 2018 parliamentary elections.

By Moniroth Morm, Sovannarith Keo and Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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