Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy announces Saturday return

Authorities in Cambodia have labelled Sam Rainsy's plan to return from exile next month a 'coup'.

    Sam Rainsy fled to France four years ago, following a conviction for criminal defamation [File: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters]
    Sam Rainsy fled to France four years ago, following a conviction for criminal defamation [File: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters]

    Self-exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has said he will return to the country on Saturday to face arrest after a mass crackdown at home on opposition activists and the detention of members of his banned party by Malaysian authorities.

    The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of plotting a coup and said they will be arrested if they try to enter the country. 

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    "I will depart from Paris on Thursday November 7. I will arrive in Bangkok on Friday November 8 to be ready to enter Cambodia on Saturday November 9," Sam Rainsy, the CNRP's founder, tweeted on Wednesday along with a photo of his aeroplane ticket.

    November 9 is Cambodia's Independence Day, celebrating freedom from French colonial rule.

    Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Wednesday that Rainsy would not be allowed to enter Thailand. 

    Referring to Thailand's ties with Cambodia as a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping, Prayut said: "According to our commitment to ASEAN, we will not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, and we will not allow an anti-government person to use Thailand for activism.

    He added: "I have ordered this, so he probably won't get in."

    The country recently turned away Mu Sochua, the CNRP's vice president, when she flew into Bangkok's main international airport.

    Sochua announced at a press conference in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, that she and her colleagues would also be attempting to return to Cambodia on Saturday.

    "We are risking our lives. We will go to Cambodia empty-handed with bare hands," said Sochua, who added the return of self-exiled CNRP members was "not a coup d'etat", as labelled by the government.

    Cambodia's ambassador to Indonesia, Hor Nambora, tried to block Sochua's news conference calling it an "illegal" event, a live broadcast of the event showed. Shortly afterwards, the Cambodian embassy in Jakarta issued a statement urging authorities in Indonesia to arrest and deport the "fugitive" Sochua. 

    A 2017 court ruling dissolved the CNRP on grounds of plotting to overthrow the government, leading to a five-year ban for more than 100 party members.

    Sam Rainsy fled to France four years ago, following a conviction for criminal defamation, in which he was ordered to pay $1m in compensation. He also faces a five-year prison sentence in a separate case.

    Hun Sen's government deployed troops along its borders in response to Rainsy's announcement of his planned return.

    Sam Rainsy told The Associated Press news agency he hopes his planned return will trigger a People's Power-style movement to force Hun Sen from office.

    He has previously said it was legitimate to seek to topple Hun Sen because the prime minister has created a one-party state and was not prepared to hold free and fair elections.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies