Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said that he would block any attempt for a meeting between him and exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy to be arranged as he reaffirmed his planned attendance at the Asean-Australia Summit this month.
Speaking yesterday during a building inauguration at Chhuok Var pagoda in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen addressed a tweet by Mr Rainsy, who said on the social media platform that he was “open” to meeting with the premier to solve an “unprecedented crisis”.
“I am always open to meeting with Hun Sen’s government in order to find a peaceful solution to this unprecedented crisis, a solution that would be acceptable to both sides with international guarantees,” Mr Rainsy said.
Mr Rainsy, who led the opposition CNRP before stepping down and being replaced by Kem Sokha, who has since been jailed on treason charges, cannot return to Cambodia due to multiple criminal convictions.
Mr Rainsy’s tweet led to discussions on social media that he and his supporters may be trying to arrange a meeting with Mr Hun Sen when he attends the summit later this month, an idea the premier steadfastly shot down yesterday.
“I am going to Australia to attend the Asean-Australia Summit, but not to negotiate with former opposition leaders,” said Mr Hun Sen. “It is not worth it for me to negotiate with you because you regard me as an isolated person that nobody wants to have relations with; so why do you want to negotiate with me or are you crazy?”
“I want to confirm with you that for more than half my life I have been committed to negotiations, not battles, and that I have become a negotiation specialist,” he added. “But I do not negotiate with traitors or treacherous party members.”
The Supreme Court dissolved the opposition CNRP after Mr Sokha was jailed on treason charges and the party was accused of conspiring with the US to topple the government through a colour revolution.
Mr Hun Sen added yesterday that any foreigners working to arrange a meeting between him and Mr Rainsy were wasting their time.
“I would like to tell my foreign friends that I will not meet with the opposition group,” he said. “In Cambodia, if Hun Sen does not give the green light, no one dares to go negotiate and foreigners also need to know this.”
Mr Rainsy has lived in exile since 2015 after being hit with slew of court cases, including by Mr Hun Sen who accused him of defamation.
Last month, Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Mr Rainsy in absentia with demoralisation of the army and inciting military personnel to disobey orders after he called on the armed forces to disobey orders if they were ordered to shoot civilians.
Also last month, the court issued a warrant to temporarily seize the former CNRP headquarters belonging to Mr Rainsy over compensation he owes through defamation lawsuits with Mr Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said it was nearly impossible for the opposition to succeed in any attempt to revitalise the party and participate in July’s national election.
“It would be a big humiliation for him [Hun Sen] because he has invested so much energy in destroying Mr Rainsy and his party,” he said.
However, as the Tonle Sap’s flow is reversible, it cannot be ruled out that this situation may be reversible,” Mr Mong Hay added.
Prior to the 2013 national election, Mr Hun Sen requested that a royal pardon be granted to Mr Rainsy, allowing him to return to Cambodia without being arrested and participate in national election campaigning.
The pardon ended a years-long exile period for Mr Rainsy, who had sought refuge in France to avoid jail on charges of disinformation and destruction of public property.
He was able to return prior to the 2013 election thanks to the pardon, but was still not able to run for election.
Mr Hun Sen yesterday also addressed an ongoing battle between him and opposition supporters living in Australia, who earlier burned effigies of him after he threatened to beat any protesters who burned his photo upon his arrival.
The premier said that effigy-burning protesters had been incited by former opposition members to carry out their distasteful demonstrations.
“The people who burned Hun Sen effigies 100 percent received orders from the treasonous group,” he said, referring to the dissolved CNRP.
There are about 30,000 Cambodian-born Australians, with the majority living in Melbourne and Sydney. Many fled Cambodia during the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s.
The Asean-Australia Special Summit will take place from March 17 to 18.