PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Opposition leader Sam Rainsy arrived back in Cambodia yesterday after about a month’s absense, saying he will use “cold measures” to end tension with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
He has come under criticism for being out of the country at a time of political crisis, including the jailing of 11 members of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on charges of insurrection. Three more are awaiting trial over a protest last year in Freedom Park that turned violent.
“I have no plans to meet my culture of dialogue partner,” Mr. Rainsy said, referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen. “But even when I was in abroad, I contacted Samdech Hun Sen via phone and SMS.”
Some CNRP activists believe the arrests are related to the party’s condemnation of the government’s efforts to resolve the border crisis with Vietnam.
CNRP lawmakers and activists have led protests to disputed border posts, and many party members have openly questioned whether the government led by the Cambodian People’s Party is giving in to Vietnam on the issue.
Asked if he thought there was a connection to the arrest of CNRP activists and the rhetoric the party was using in relation to the border issues with Vietnam, Mr. Rainsy said: “What we want to see is that the arrested and detained people will be freed. That is our final goal.”
“We do not need to go into detail about that because everything is related.”
Sok Ey San, spokesman for the CPP, said the return of Sam Rainsy will not change the current political situation.
“If someone commits criminal acts, they will face the law,” Mr. Ey San said in reference to the convicted CNRP activists.
The culture of dialogue was formed to deal with political issues, and it cannot be used to deal with criminal court cases, Mr. Ey San said.
Mr. Rainsy said that the culture of dialogue is more of a long-term tool to resolve the large issues facing the country. “Although the political tension is high, we have to try to eliminate tension,” he said.
Political science professor at Khemarak University Em Sovannara said he doesn’t think Mr. Rainsy’s return would ease tensions because the two parties are always criticizing each other.
“It’s part of the CNRP strategy to fight with the CPP. They benefit from the CPP targeting them,” he said.
“If that stops, the CNRP will lose support.”
CNRP activist Meas Socheat from Takhmao said he was glad to see his leader return from missions abroad, and he was happy to join hundreds of other party supporters in welcoming Mr. Rainsy home.
“It gives me a warm feeling to see him in the country,” Mr. Socheat said, adding that he hoped the political situation would improve with his return.
Hundreds of people lined the road from the airport to welcome the opposition leader home, cheering and shouting.
Some held banners calling for the release of recently-detained Senator Hok Sok Hour, who was arrested on Saturday on charges of treason.
orng Chhear, 42, said he would love to see all parties talk to each other to solve the country’s issues. “Each party has to compromise to make the situation better,” he said.
Mr. Chhear echoed the sentiment of many CNRP activists who questioned the timing of Mr. Rainsy’s trip.
He said that being a leader means not running away from difficult problems.
On-lookers scrambled to get a photo of Mr. Rainsy as he arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport. KT Photo: Jean-François Perigois