Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday called exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy a “pretend patriot” for fleeing the country while his supporters in the Kingdom face legal troubles.
In South Korea last week, Mr Rainsy said that it would be pointless for him to return to the Kingdom under the threat of arrest or worse, referring to the arrest of former CNRP leader Kem Sokha and the killing of government critic Kem Ley.
During a speech in Battambang province’s Thmar Koul district, Mr Kheng did not mention Mr Rainsy by name, but said that he was referring to a man who was hit with a slew of charges and fled in 2015.
“He calls himself a patriot, but he fled the country and while abroad claimed to have made the most sacrifices compared to others still in the Kingdom,” he said. “We are here in the country, we serve the people’s interests every day, but he does not consider us as patriots.”
Mr Kheng said the word patriot means a person who is always with the people, especially when it comes to maintaining peace, political stability and development.
“A patriot is not someone who uses their mouth, but someone who sacrifices for the people,” he said. “We, CPP officials, have never fled from the people. We won’t flee and we won’t give up the people.”
Mr Kheng said other former opposition leaders should make sacrifices for the people in the Kingdom.
“They should stay with their people,” he said.
Government critic Hong Lim, who was present during Mr Rainsy’s speech in South Korea, said in a Skype interview with the Cambodia Daily that Mr Rainsy was inappropriate when referring to Mr Sokha and Mr Ley.
“He said he ‘will not come [to the Kingdom] to be killed like Kem Ley, or imprisoned like Kem Sokha’,” Mr Lim said. “I was disappointed and hurt because I know Kem Sokha is loyal to his people, and has not fled the country.”
“His sacrifice is to stay in the Kingdom in the face of arrest,” he added. “Sam Rainsy cannot insult them like this, especially Kem Ley who is a hero.”
Kang Kimhak, a former CNRP lawmaker, echoed Mr Lim’s statement.
“I think that what Sam Rainsy said looks down on those who sacrificed themselves for democracy and human rights in the Kingdom,” Mr Kimhak said. “If he dares not to make a sacrifice, then he should not pass the blame to others.”
“I only support a culture of dialogue, not a culture of hatred,” he added.