Khmer News in En

Kem Ley's Spirit Still Powerful in Cambodia

The spirt of slain government critic Kem Ley still casts a shadow over Cambodia as thousands of people clogged the main roads on Sunday for the close of his 100-day ritual ceremony and some of his former students began selling a compilation of his political essays.

While the crowds weren’t as large as they were in July when an estimated two million people flooded the streets for his funeral, the numbers were still a testament to his popularity at a time of political tensions.

Several mourners including Buddhist monks joined the procession which started at 7 A.M. at the Wat Chas temple in Phnom Penh and ended in Kem Ley’s mother’s backyard Takeo province, where the analyst’s remains are buried.

Instead of following Kem Ley’s flag-draped coffin like they did in July, his mourners trailed a life-size copper statute depicting the popular critic and teacher.

The ceremony took place 100 days after Kem Ley was cremated. The 100-day ceremony is an important Buddhist ritual where prayers for the dead are chanted.

At Wat Chas, a group of Kem Ley’s former students sold several thousand copies of a compilation of his political analyses and essays on his vision for Cambodia.

Proceeds from the sales of the book are to be donated to charity for the continuation of Kem Ley’s unfinished business.

The students told RFA’s Khmer Service they would like Prime Minister Hun Sen to read the books because they contain factual information about social issues and Kem Ley’s recommendations to solve them.

“May I encourage all political parties, lawmakers, ministers of various ministries and especially the prime minister to read the book that details factual information about unresolved social issues,” said Muong Sony, a leader of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association.

“If they read them they will appreciate the national development strategies and the relevant recommendations that are included for each issue,” added Muong Sony, who was a Kem Ley’ student.

Development researcher Meas Ny told RFA he doubted that Cambodia’s leaders would take Kem Ley’s words to heart, telling RFA Cambodian politicians normally dislike being advised.

“Kem Ley’s comments were based on his field research,” he said. “He met with people of all walks of life. He also met with government officials. His input reflects the real situation on the ground.”

While Kem Ley’s funeral was winding down, the investigation into his murder continues, even though his wife has yet to file a complaint seeking an investigation, said Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Ly Sophanna.

Kem Ley’s wife Bou Rachana, told RFA that she is still refusing to appear in court, and she has yet to seek legal assistance in the case.

She and her five children, including a 15-day old son, are living a foreign country awaiting action on their asylum case.

Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Though authorities charged former soldier Oueth Ang with the killing, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the former soldier over a debt.

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

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Chinese Loans to Cambodia Spark Sharp Words Between Government, Opposition

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Cambodia that wrapped up on Friday brought millions of dollars in soft loans and debt forgiveness for Phnom Penh, but triggered a fresh war of words between the ruling party and an opposition wary of Beijing’s largesse.

Xi’s two-day visit to a country that has been the strongest Southeast Asian supporter of Chinese policies in the disputed South China Sea produced 31 economic agreements covering at least $60 million in new loans and forgivess of $90 million in Cambodian debts to China from 2015.

Sam Rainsy, exiled leader of the opposition Cambodia National Renewal Party, told RFA’S Khmer Service in Thursday he was worried about  the “enormous money” the government was borrowing from China.

“Hun Sen’s government is borrowing enormous money from China,  billions of dollars.  I am very concerned about this loan because [we] do not know what the loans have been used for, and there is no monitoring,” he told an RFA live televsion show.

“It is the Cambodian people who will have this burden, not the Hun Sen government,” he added.

Sok Eysan, spokesman for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, dismissed the complaints the noise of a “mad dog.”

“This opposition leader always does things for his power and ambition only, without considering national interests and society,” Sok Eysan told RFA.

“The opposition leaders are all incitement ring-leaders.  Their acts are to defame the current legitimate government while praising themselves.  Now, his words sound just like a mad dog, biting anything in its way,” the spokesman added.

Opposition politicians and human rights groups, who have been the target of an intensify crackdown by Hun Sen’s government that has seen politicians and activists beaten or jailed, have been concerned about Cambodia’s increasingly cozy ties with authoritarian China.

They say Chinese funding and political support help make Hun Sen immune to human rights criticism from Western countries that have been traditional aid donors.

In a speech in June after his crackdown was criticized by the European Union and the United Nations, Hun Sen slammed his critics and praised China.

“China also has never threatened us like this. Cambodia has its own political independence,” he said. “China also never advised Cambodia to do this and that.”

Development researcher Meas Ny told RFA, however, that Cambodians often pay a steep price for money from China.

“With the new economic reforms in Cambodia through development projects, we only see endless problems, especially crises resulting from land disputes where there are Chinese projects,” he said.

“We travel to various areas with problems, especially the areas where there is investment from China,” said Meas Ny.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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New U.N. Effort to Protect Refugees Not Seen as Helping Vulnerable Internally Displaced Persons

The United Nations’ newest effort to address large-scale refugee flows and migration, adopted last month in New York, has left out at least one highly vulnerable group—internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Southeast Asia, say disappointed human rights experts and activists.

The adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants on Sept. 19, in which U.N. member states agreed to protect the rights of refugees and migrants and share responsibility for large movements on a global scale, will have little or no effect on IDPs in Southeast Asia, especially Muslim Rohingyas forced into camps in their native Myanmar and scattered across the region.

The stateless Rohingya have been called the most persecuted minority in the world, and some rights groups contend they are the victims of state-sponsored genocide because of the intense persecution by majority Buddhists and officials of a military government long known for brutality that was replaced by a civilian administration only six months ago.

Rights groups point out that while the declaration is intended to address the millions fleeing recent wars, especially the raging conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, it has failed to grasp an opportunity to include concrete measures to help IDPs such as the 1.1 million Rohingya who mostly live in the Southeast Asian country’s coastal Rakhine state, also known as Arakan state.

“The declaration was, frankly speaking, a response to political pressure emanating from the ongoing/proxy war in Syria rather than the long-running problems in Myanmar, which since the start of the Syrian civil war, have failed to make headlines in the West,” wrote said Steven Kiersons, team lead for Myanmar at The Sentinel Project, in an email.

“If it has any effect on the situation in Myanmar and Southeast Asia in general, it is at the very least an acknowledgement that the current system for handling migrants and refugees is systematically dysfunctional and relies more on stemming the flow of people than addressing the root causes of migrations,” said Kiersons, whose Canada-based nonprofit organization focuses on the prevention of genocide.

The Rohingya, victims of an obscure conflict in a country that had largely shut itself off from the world for decades, briefly grabbed world news headlines in 2012, after an outbreak of communal violence killed hundreds and led many thousands to become refugees within Myanmar or take dangerous boat trips to other Southeast Asian countries.

Four years on, their fate remains precarious, amid renewed tensions in the wake of an armed attack on Oct. 9 on Myanmar guards on the country’s border with Bangladesh that has sparked retaliatory violence, leaving more than 40 people dead and sending thousands of frightened villagers fleeing their homes for cities.

Rafendi Djamin, director of Amnesty International’s South East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office based in Bangkok, calls the New York Declaration a “token gesture” that will have little impact on the lives of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Southeast Asia or elsewhere.

“Instead of announcing clear and concrete steps towards ending the refugee crisis, world leaders chose to abscond any real responsibility towards reaching a solution,” he told RFA.

Djamin noted that U.N. members states had discussed including internally displaced communities in the declaration, but in the end decided not to because they thought that it would make the document’s scope too broad.

While the main responsibility for protecting IDPs lies with national authorities, U.N. member states must push the Myanmar government to ensure that the Rohingya and other displaced people have full and unrestricted access to humanitarian assistance and that efforts to resettle them are conducted voluntarily, safely and with dignity, he said.

“It is also important for the international community to address the root causes—which include discrimination and violence—that have forced both Rohingya refugees and IDPs to flee their homes,” he said.

The map shows Rakhine state in western Myanmar. RFA graphic
RFA graphic

Tangible programs necessary

The declaration, which was adopted during the U.N.’s first-ever high-level summit on the issue of migrants and refugees by heads of state and government, U.N. leaders, and representatives from civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and academia, mentions IDPs three times in general terms. But they are not addressed in the section on commitments, human rights advocates pointed out.

Myra Dahgaypaw, acting executive director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, said she sees no positive impact from the declaration as written on paper and notes that not only the Rohingya, but other people in Myanmar are routinely displaced and become refugees due to fighting or the confiscation of their land by the national army and conflicts with the country’s numerous armed ethnic groups.

“[Unless] the U.N. and the stakeholders are willing to implement some tangible programs specifically for the affected communities, the declaration will only be a gesture,” she wrote in an email.

“If the U.N. would like to see tangible results, the U.N. and its stakeholders must create specific programs that are measurable, work with local community leaders by going on the ground, speaking with the affected community, collecting information and conducting need assessments directly,” she said.

Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate at Washington-based Refugees International who focuses on Myanmar, agrees that the New York Declaration will have little immediate impact on migrants and refugees in Southeast Asia because of its lack of accountability.

“If there is one major disappointment with the New York Declaration, it is that it does not provide for accountability for states that do not live up to their commitments.”

“It is good that IDPs are mentioned in the declaration, even if not being addressed in the commitments, but if it does not lead to future efforts to explicitly address the challenges of IDPs, then it will be a massive shortcoming that will undermine not only the security of IDPs, but the commitments to addressing refugees as well,” Sullivan told RFA from Bangkok where he is completing a research mission on Rohingya in Malaysia and Thailand.

It’s necessary for actual reform to be implemented to have an impact on IDPs like the Rohingya as the Malaysian government and UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, have done to tackle complex migration and refugee resettlement issues, he said.

“If put into effect, it could lead to implementation of ideas like granting work permits to refugees, providing education, and better access to health care,” Sullivan said.

“These would lead to substantive improvement for refugees in Malaysia, including at least 50,000 Rohingya now living there” he said. “Ideally, the commitments in the New York Declaration will help add pressure for such ideas to move forward.”

‘Blatant restrictions on human rights’

Most of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority considers the Rohingya to be illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many have lived in the country for generations.

The country’s 1982 Citizenship Law effectively renders the Rohingya stateless by prohibiting them from holding Myanmar citizenship. This policy denies them basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.

“In the case of the Rohingya in Myanmar, we are talking about blatant restrictions on human rights,” Sullivan said. “There is a need for freedom of movement, unrestricted humanitarian access, and, in the longer term, addressing the status of Rohingya as stateless due to Myanmar’s citizenship laws.”

“Addressing statelessness is included among the New York Declaration’s commitments, so, in theory, should cover the Rohingya.”

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, also cast doubt on the impact of the New York Declaration.

“The declaration has welcome aspirations but no mechanisms for monitoring and implementation,” he told RFA.

“There should be a binding convention on the rights and treatment of IDPs, with monitoring and public annual reports naming and shaming countries which don’t comply, including those who haven’t signed the convention,” Farmaner said.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya were displaced following communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead. Afterwards, about 140,000 Rohingya were forced into dozens of IDP camps, where about 120,000 remain today in a state of limbo.

Since 2012, more than 170,000 mostly Rohingya have fled Myanmar and the border areas of Bangladesh by sea to escape ongoing abuses. But many have fallen into the hands of human traffickers in other Asian countries, according to Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based group that seeks to prevent and remedy human rights violations.

The declaration also alludes to obligations under international law when it comes to IDPs, said Djamin. It says: “While some commitments are mainly applicable to one group, they must also be applicable to the other.”

Farmaner noted that Myanmar’s new civilian-led government has retained restrictions on humanitarian aid to Rohingya IDPs that were put in place by the military junta that ruled the country for 50 years until 2011.

“People are dying as a result,” he said. “Rohingya IDPs need international protection in their own country just as much as refugees who flee abroad.”

Rohingya children play inside an internally displaced persons camp during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Sittwe, western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, July 2, 2016. Credit: AFP

Slow-moving and stagnant

Likewise, Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union, believes that the New York Declaration will have little or no impact on refugees and migrants in and from Myanmar, saying that such efforts are slow-moving at best.

The nonprofit umbrella organization represents various Rohingya groups worldwide and seeks to find a political solution to the issues they face, including human rights violations and the denial of citizenship.

He calls the Rohingya issue a “truly humanitarian disaster” and laments that it was not included in the New York Declaration.

“Absolutely, it should have been included,” he wrote via email. “Most countries in this declaration are preoccupied with the issues in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, which involve several millions refugees and IDPs. “These have apparently overshadowed the smaller groups elsewhere in the world, but it shouldn’t have happened that way.”

Uddin also believes the Rohingya issue was left out of the declaration for political reasons, because many of the countries that have spoken out against their treatment in the past have now stopped because they trust the new civilian government, led by state counselor and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to address the matter.

The UNHCR has maintained limited operations with small units in the northern part of Rakhine state but cannot deliver necessary assistance to the people because of its limited presence and restrictions that were first put in place by the junta-led government.

The UNHCR’s handing of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has been much better than its dealings with IDPs in Rakhine, said Uddin.

“Nonetheless, there may be some improvement of these issues in Myanmar not because of the New York Declaration, but due to the emerging unilateral efforts by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD-led government to address the root causes of the migrants, refugees, and IDP issues in and from Myanmar,” Uddin said.

Firm and full engagement

In late August, Aung San Suu Kyi formed a nine-member Rakhine Advisory Commission tasked with examining humanitarian and development issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of all who live in Rakhine.

However, her appointment of former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan and two other foreign dignitaries to the panel triggered opposition from Rakhine Buddhists and the state’s Arakan National Party, which has called for the commission’s disbandment. These groups, which have led the hostility against the Muslim Rohingya, say they believe the foreign members will automatically side with the Rohingya and turn a domestic issue into an international one.

“Regardless of the Rohingya citizenship argument from either side, the Rohingya victims in the IDP camps must be returned to their original homes in their respective townships,” Uddin wrote.

“The United Nations must engage fully and firmly with the government of Myanmar for the immediate repatriation of the Rohingya IDPs,” he said.

U.N. officials said more must be done collectively by the organization’s member states to deal with the forced displacement of people.

“The New York Declaration represents a global recognition that no one state can address this issue on its own. We must share responsibilities,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters on the sidelines of the summit for refugees and migrants.

“Migration must be a choice, not a necessity,” he said. “We must address the root causes of forced displacement.”

Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme, which seeks to wipe out poverty in the world, told journalists on the sidelines of the annual Social Good Summit in New York on Sept. 18, the day before the New York Declaration was adopted, that the international community needs to give more voice to IDPs.

Global leaders and grassroots activists discussed the impact of technology and new media on social initiatives worldwide at the two-day conference held annually during U.N. General Assembly week.

Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, noted that the summit’s outcomes would not “go anywhere near” a rewriting of the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951 or address the issue of IDPs, but she hoped that it would raise awareness among leaders and ideally lead to more practical support for refugees in terms of funding.

“This summit isn’t dealing with the internally displaced, but they are a significant proportion of those who are forcibly displaced, so that tells us that there’s work to expand this conversation to deal with that specific group of people,” she said.

Most Southeast Asian nations, including Myanmar, are not signatories to the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951, which defines the term “refugee,” outlines the rights of the displaced, and sets out the legal obligations of U.N. member states to protect them.

“It’s great that there’s the convention on refugees…but the internally displaced—they need voices, they need attention as well, so that’s a conversation that must happen,” said Clark.

Three days later, Clark and others issued an open letter to U.N. member states, calling on governments and world leaders to do more to support IDPs alongside refugees and migrants.

Research for this story was supported by a fellowship from the International Center for Journalists and the United Nations Foundation.

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Cambodia National Rescue Party Leaders See an Opening

Opposition party leaders are holding on to the small hope that Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni will grant their request to pardon rights activists and political officials who have been the subject of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s legal campaigns.

“We wrote a letter to the king because we fully support and follow the king’s advice in his Oct. 7  letter calling the two parties to work together to solve the national issues for and reconciliation in the country,” Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service during a TV broadcast on Thursday.

“The king’s letter reflected the will of the Cambodian people,” he said.

Sam Rainsy and CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha both signed onto the latest letter that is part of a flurry of correspondence between Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP leaders.

In Sihamoni’s Oct. 7 letter he urged the two political parties to work together after the CNRP decided to extend its boycott of Cambodia’s National Assembly.

Sihamoni forwarded the CNRP’s request for consideration by the Cambodian government that is dominated by Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The prime minister urged rejection of the request.

“Who acts against the law is responsible for the acting against the law,” Hun Sen responded in his own missive. “Strict implementation of the law is the key to helping Cambodia to thrive and proceed with multi-party democracy.”

Sam Rainsy told RFA that the decision was up to the Sihamoni and not Hun Sen.

“Kem Sokha and I wrote the letter to the king, and only for the king,” he said. “If there is anyone who comes out and gives a response before the King, as if to represent the king, that person is humiliating and devaluing the king.”

The law and the reality

While Hun Sen wants Sihamoni to reject the request, Cambodian constitutional scholars say the king has the sole power to decide the amnesty question.

Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), said Article 27 of the constitution gives the king the unconditional right to grant amnesty.

“In the constitution, it did not state that there should be any agreement from anyone,” he told RFA. “If he [the King] can grant the amnesty only with someone’s approval, then who is the person granting the amnesty?”

Political science scholar Heng Sreang gave a similar answer, but said that in reality the king’s amnesty has always been initiated by the prime minister.

“In the constitution, the King does not need to consult with anyone or the Prime Minister,” he said. “The King can use his royal role and responsibilities to consider [the amnesty].  By reading that letter, it seems that he asked the prime minister to kindly consider it.

Heng Sreang cast doubt that the CNRP’s slim hopes will become a reality anytime soon.

“As long as the CNRP and the ruling party do not have trust in each other, there is no hope that there will be [amnesty] consideration from the king,” he said.

As of Thursday, there is no official decision from the king on the issue.

The CNRP wants the amnesty because several of the party’s top officials including Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have been convicted by Cambodia’s courts of different crimes.

While they face arrest, the convictions are seen by observers inside and outside the country as part of Hun Sen’s effort to weaken his strongest opposition before the upcoming Cambodian elections.

Local elections are set for 2017 and national elections are scheduled for 2018.

Of pardons past

In 2013, King Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Sam Rainsy. At the time Hun Sen had signed off on the Royal Pardon, which absolved Sam Rainsy of defamation charges, allowing him to return to Cambodia without being put in jail.

Even though he was ineligible for candidacy in the 2013 general election, thousands of his supporters thronged the streets when he returned.

The CNRP gained 55 seats in the National Assembly in that election, but the party and international observers found evidence of fraud and the CNRP boycotted parliament from September 2013 until July 2014.

In November 2015, Sam Rainsy was again removed from parliament by the ruling CPP when a warrant was issued for his arrest after being convicted of defaming former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong with the  claim that the CPP politician ran a prison in the 1970s for the bloody Khmer Rouge regime.

Kem Sokha has been acting president of the CNRP since that time, but he has been under virtual house arrest since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.

On Sept. 9 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that Kem Sokha was guilty of refusing to appear for questioning in a prostitution case against him that is largely seen as politically motivated.

Reported by Heng Sun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Expresses Equal Treatement Concerns

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia on Wednesday urged the country’s leaders to apply the law equally, following a meeting with opposition leader Kem Sokha, whose supporters say he is a frequent target of politicized legal action.

“There are many issues that need to be discussed to make sure that Cambodia’s constitution and law are implemented fairly and equally by the government,” Rhona Smith told reporters after the meeting at Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headquarter in Phnom Penh.

On a fact-finding mission in the country, Smith met with the acting CNRP president Kem Sokha, who has been holed up in the party headquarters since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.

Application of the law has become a big issue in Cambodia as Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have been accused of using the courts to go after opposition politicians and government critics.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan told RFA that he did not yet know if Smith would meet Hun Sen on behalf of the government or the party.

He dismissed the complaints of the opposition lawmakers and government critics saying the oppositions problems are legal matters, not political ones.

While Smith was concerned about possible abuses in the legal system, she also expressed concern about the CNRP’s stance regarding ethnic minorities like the Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

“We did not focus just on the Vietnamese, but on immigrants in general,” said senior CNRP official Eng Chhai Eang.

“When we lead the country we will have a clear stance on principles,” he added. “We will implement in accordance with the Cambodian laws on nationality and immigration to ensure that all nationals who live in Cambodia are legal.”

The two countries have had a difficult relationship for centuries, and Hun Sen’s relationship with the Vietnamese has been a source of tension.

Hun Sen emerged as a major force in Cambodia during the period when the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge.

When the Khmer Rouge regime was defeated, Hun Sen was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Vietnamese-installed People’s Republic of Kampuchea/State of Cambodia (PRK/SOC) in 1979.

As Cambodian foreign minister and then prime minister, Hun Sen played an important role in the 1991 Paris Peace Talks that brokered peace among Cambodia’s warring factions.

In recent times, the CNRP has used that relationship as a political foil with opposition leaders often accusing Hun Sen of ceding territory to the Vietnamese.

Smith also met with Minister of Social Affairs Vong Soth and the representative of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees Wan-Hea Lee.

That two-hour meeting covered various issues including children, the disabled, homelessness and the Prey Speu detention center that has long been denounced by rights groups for abuses.

In 2015 two people died at the center that serves as a holding facility for homeless drug addicts and others detained in the capital.

She told the press that she wants to see changes in this center, but did not release the details.

“We must make sure that they have a safe living environment and all their rights are protected, especially the rights to receive safety, food, water and hygiene,” she told reporters.

Reported by Zakariya Tin and Heng Sun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Kem Sokha Says Cambodia National Rescue Party is Better With Two United Leaders

Embattled opposition leader Kem Sokha wants to put the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s leadership team back together as he hinted that CNRP President Sam Rainsy should return to the country.

“If Sam Rainsy is with me, it is better than if I am leading alone,” he told NewsChannel Asia on Tuesday. “If he decides not to come we will still continue leading the party forward through the party mechanisms.”

Sam Rainsy has been living abroad off and on for years as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has charged him with a number of offenses that observers inside and outside Cambodia see as politically motivated.

On September 26th, Sam Rainsy told BBC News that he plans to go back to Cambodia two or three weeks before the 2018 national election even if he risks arrest.

Even though he is living in the CNRP headquarters, acting party leader Kem Sokha said he wasn’t going to follow Rainsy out of the country.

“If they arrest me, the people will protest, so I trust the people,” he said. “If they unjustly arrest me, Cambodia will have a big problem. People will disagree with the government, so there will be big chaos.”

Cambodian political science scholar So Chantha said the country would be better off if the two opposition politicians work together inside the country.

“I want politicians to be able talk and negotiate with each other in order to solve problems,” he said. “Politicians should gain trust from the people rather than let them get tired and hopeless or let them think that politics is dangerous.”

In 2013, King Norodom Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Sam Rainsy. The pardon absolved Sam Rainsy of defamation charges allowing him to return to Cambodia without being put in jail

Even though he was ineligible for candidacy in the 2013 general election, thousands of his supporters thronged the streets when he returned.

The CNRP gained 55 seats in the National Assembly in that election, but the party and international observers found evidence of fraud and the CNRP boycotted parliament from September 2013 until July 2014.

In November 2015, Sam Rainsy was again removed from parliament by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) when a warrant was issued for his arrest after being convicted of defaming former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong with the  claim that the CPP politician ran a prison in the 1970s for the bloody Khmer Rouge regime.

Kem Sokha has been acting president of the CNRP since that time, but he has been under virtual house arrest since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.

On Sept. 9 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that Kem Sokha was guilty of refusing to appear for questioning in a prostitution case against him, and he was sentenced to five months in prison and given a fine of 800,000 riel ($200).

Kem Sokha is accused of procuring a prostitute in relation to his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty. Despite being summoned twice in May, he refused to appear in court to answer questions about the prostitution allegations.

His legal problems are also seen as politically motivated.

Reported by Leng Maly for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Taing Sarada. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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