Tuesday, 12 November, 2019

US concerned at Cambodia crackdown as neighbors' cooperation decried

Mu Sochua Sam Rainsy barred from flight
Patty Aguilar | 10 November, 2019, 16:37

Exiled Cambodian opposition party leader Sam Rainsy was blocked in Paris on Thursday and his deputy detained in Malaysia as they tried to fly home despite arrest threats from Cambodia's leader Hun Sen.

In Cambodia, at least 48 opposition activists have been arrested this year since Rainsy announced plans to return on November 9 - Cambodia's independence day - to rally opposition to longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Malaysian authorities detained Mu Sochua on Thursday for entering the country on a USA passport, while Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said during a speech he had ordered customs to not allow Sam Rainsy into the country, saying he was following "rules" of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The former Khmer Rouge commander, who has been in office for more than three decades, views any homecoming of the opposition leaders and their planned demonstrations as tantamount to an attempted coup.

He and fellow leaders of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party had vowed to enter Cambodia from Thailand to spark a popular movement to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen from power.

The US was "deeply concerned by the recent expanding series of arrests, harassment, and intimidation of members of the Cambodian political opposition and by efforts to thwart the return to Cambodia of citizens seeking peaceful participation in the political process", a US embassy spokesman said on Friday.

"I am extremely shocked because the people need me in Cambodia", Rainsy said at Charles de Gaulle airport after he was turned away at the Thai Airways counter.

Rights group Amnesty International, meanwhile, decried cooperation by Malaysia and Thailand to prevent foreign-based Cambodian opposition figures getting home to rally support. "I will never give up".

Southeast Asian countries are helping Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen prevent dissidents from trying to return to the country just before the European Union is set to decide whether to maintain trade privileges for the country's biggest industry. "Democracy will be established as soon as possible; it is our determination, it is our conviction".

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"We hope that this will inspire Thailand to allow Sam Rainsy into the country and all other ASEAN countries to respect people's fundamental rights", said Philippine legislator Teddy Baguilat.

He later made an online broadcast on Facebook, where he has nearly 4.8 million followers, calling on his compatriots not to be disappointed and remain strong.

The country's human rights commission said Sochua and two other Cambodian activists arrested in Malaysia this week as they sought to fly to Thailand have since been released.

Speaking in Yangon on Thursday, Hay said he was disappointed that some ASEAN countries have interfered by attempting to block the CNRP's return, and thanked Myanmar for letting him come.

"What we are seeing now shows that the long arm of Hun Sen's repression is reaching all over Southeast Asia". The opposition leader has faced criticism in the past for announcing a return but not following through.

CNRP vice-president Mu Sochua in Phnom Penh in 2013.

The moves come shortly before Europe is expected to issue a decision on whether or not to pull Cambodia's preferential tariff status due to its deteriorating human rights situation, a move that could devastate its economy.

Malaysian officials said they received a request from Cambodia to deport certain individuals but do not plan to do so. Majority have convictions or charges pending - many of which have been handed down in absentia. Cambodian courts are widely considered to be under the influence of the government, which employs the law to harass its opponents.

The CNRP was dissolved in 2017 after making significant gains in that year's local commune elections, allowing Prime Minister Hun Sen to claim all 125 seats in Parliament in the 2018 national election.

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