Sam Rainsy says waiting for right time to return to Cambodia

Cambodia’s opposition veteran Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua speak to reporters after their meeting with Malaysian MPs today.

KUALA LUMPUR: Cambodia’s opposition veteran Sam Rainsy, who entered Malaysia on Saturday, said he will definitely return to Cambodia.

Speaking to reporters outside the Parliament building after meeting with MPs, he said: “We will find another way to go back to Cambodia. I will be staying in the region, because the situation can change very fast.

“I will go back to Cambodia when there is a feasible possibility to leave with my colleagues.”

Rainsy, a founder of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was accompanied by vice-chairman Mu Sochua.

He said he was grateful to the Malaysian government and authorities for allowing them to enter Malaysia despite being blocked from entering other neighbouring countries such as Thailand, and attempts by the Cambodian government to restrict their movement.

“Contrary to accusations that have been raised against us by the Cambodian government, we are not criminals; we are democrats, we are freedom fighters and here in Malaysia we have many friends, many like-minded people.”

Rainsy, 70, flew into Malaysia on Saturday after promising to return home from self-imposed exile to rally opponents of authoritarian ruler Hun Sen.

He was initially refused permission to board a Thai Airways plane in Paris on Thursday. He was bound for Cambodia.

Rainsy, who has lived in self-imposed exile in France since 2015, had originally said he planned to cross to Cambodia from Thailand with other leaders of the CNRP.

In the weeks since Rainsy announced his plan to return, some 50 opposition activists have been arrested in Cambodia.

Earlier last week, Malaysian immigration authorities detained Sochua and two others before releasing them

Rainsy fled Cambodia four years ago following a conviction for criminal defamation. He also faces a five-year sentence in a separate case. He said the charges were politically motivated.

Rainsy has been an opponent of Hun Sen since the 1990s, when Cambodia held its first election after the devastating era of the Khmer Rouge.

Rainsy said he and Sochua had met with Malaysian MPs from both sides of the divide today, adding that the meeting was a “sign of support” for their struggle.

“It means there are MPs from Malaysia, from all political parties, who support democracy in Cambodia. This is a message sent to the Cambodian people and they must be very happy and grateful,” he said.

He said the Cambodian people wanted a change in leadership and for democracy to be fully restored.

Commenting on reports yesterday that CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who has been under house arrest since 2017, has been granted a partial release, Rainsy said: “There have been some statements, not clear yet, indicating that it could be that the measures against us can be temporarily or partially lifted.”

He said he will be staying in Malaysia for “maybe a few more days”.

He said now is the right time to return to Cambodia because “there is a unique combination of internal and external pressure”.

This included pressure by the European Union, which had threatened to suspend trade privileges if the Cambodian government does not restore democracy.

“If they don’t want Cambodia to face an economic crisis, with hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs, they must restore democracy,” he said.

Sochua, meanwhile, said she will be leaving today.

“For my security, I cannot reveal where I’m going. It’s not safe for us, it’s still not safe.”