Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday warned supporters of opposition leader Sam Rainsy that they will be prosecuted if they continue their association with him.
The longtime leader also said that supporters living in exile were welcome to return to Cambodia as long as they renounce Sam Rainsy, one of Hun Sen’s most prominent critics and rivals.
“The movement of the opposition party members who left the party is like a broken dam,” the prime minister said at a meeting with factory workers in Kampong Chhnang province.
“We are welcoming all parties’ inclinations to live with the CPP,” Hun Sen said on Friday, referring to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. “But I won’t accept just one person: the traitor,” referring to Sam Rainsy.
“Anyone who disassociates with him, I will pardon them but those who are associated with him will be prosecuted,” he said.
Hun Sen and the CPP have neutralized the political opposition ahead of the July 23 parliamentary election by threatening or co-opting activists.
Additionally, members of the main opposition Candlelight Party have been arrested in several provinces in recent months, including two senior party officials in Tboung Khmum province who were charged this week with incitement.
Some detained activists have received pardons, were released from prison and given government positions after they publicly switched their allegiance to the CPP. Some have made claims that they were cheated by Sam Rainsy.
Thailand and Vietnam
Once the head of the now-disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Sam Rainsy fled to France in 2015 to avoid a series of charges that his supporters say were politically motivated.
His recent visit to Kuala Lumpur – where he spent time with Cambodian political activists living in Malaysia – angered Hun Sen, who threatened to attack him with a rocket launcher if he led workers from Thailand into Cambodia.
In May, Sam Rainsy told Radio Free Asia that if a new pro-democracy Thai government is formed, he would look into traveling to Cambodia through Thailand.
Hun Sen has asked Thailand to arrest Sam Rainsy if he travels there. This week, he said he has received information that Sam Rainsy has also considered traveling on a French passport to Vietnam, where he could walk across the border to Cambodia.
Last week, the prime minister threatened to arrest anyone who took part in a planned demonstration in Phnom Penh to protest against the National Election Committee’s decision – citing inadequate paperwork – to keep the Candlelight Party off the ballot for next month’s elections
“Please try me if you dare, you can come out now,” Hun Sen said. “I will handcuff you immediately and I won’t keep you in Phnom Penh.”
‘It is hard to accept’
Candlelight Party spokesman Kim Sour Phirith said party officials are working to collect information on this week’s arrests in Tboung Khmum and will provide defense lawyers.
“It is hard to accept [the arrests],” he told RFA. “The Candlelight Party can’t participate in the election and now many important activists have been arrested without proper reasons.”
Hun Sen is obviously worried that Sam Rainsy will return to Cambodia, where he continues to have support, said Duong Chantrea, an opposition party activist who fled Cambodia and is living in Bangkok.
He said he won’t accept Hun Sen’s offer and will continue to associate with Sam Rainsy.
“People are struggling for freedom and a better economy like other countries,” he told RFA. “They won’t follow Hun Sen. They are waiting to get a good chance to change the dictatorial regime.”
Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.