Cambodia’s self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy has said he will return to the country to defeat Prime Minister Hun Sen in the forthcoming general elections.
"I will arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on 19 July in the morning,” Rainsy announced on a social networking site on Saturday.
Rainsy, who was pardoned by King Sihamoni at Sen's request a few days ago, lives in France, and had faced 11 years in jail after he was convicted in absentia for charges that he contends were politically motivated, including publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam.
The spokesman of his Cambodia National Rescue Party, Yim Sovann, confirmed the travel schedule, adding that it would take time to arrange Rainsy's return due to some "issue with his travel document".
The French-educated former banker holds joint French and Cambodian citizenship, and is travelling on his French passport as his Cambodian passport was revoked by the government after his convictions.
Rainsy told AFP news agency that he was "very happy" to be able to return to Cambodia, adding that the pardon was "a small victory for democracy" but also warning that "much more remains to be done".
Rainsy has, been removed from the electoral register and cannot contest polls unless parliament amends the law.
A Cambodian government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Rainsy’s pardon was requested by Hun Sen "in the spirit of reconciliation", and Rainsy had "no right" to run as a candidate in the July 28 polls.
Hun Sen has steered the impoverished country from the ashes of civil war and overseen a growing economy through development, tourism, and garment exports.
He has maintained a 28-year-long grip on power in the Southeast Asian nation but his government is often accused of suppressing political freedoms and muzzling dissent voices.