Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy vowed to face the machine guns of the autocratic nation’s armed forces tomorrow and lead an uprising to depose strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But he was stopped from boarding a flight in Paris on Thursday (local time), according to AP.
The co-founder of the now dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was due to begin his journey from Paris to the border of his home nation, where he told news.com.au he planned to meet tens of thousands of supporters tomorrow and march to the capital Phnom Penh.
A peaceful uprising is promised, but the violence and assassinations that have been a hallmark of Hun Sen’s near 35-year reign suggest this is ambitious.
Both have been in self-exile after arrest warrants were issued related to charges widely considered politically motivated.
At Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, an angry Sam Rainsy told reporters that he wouldn’t be cowed by being kept off his flight and said he plans to return via another neighbouring country.
“Never, never will I abandon. We need to continue, the days of Hun Sen are numbered. Democracy will be reinstalled in the near future. It’s our conviction and our determination,” he said.
“(Hun Sen) said he will position machine guns to eliminate me and my supporters, but I am not afraid,” he said.
“On the surface there is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation,” he said.
“We will cross the border together and march to Phnom Penh together.”
Mr Rainsy denied this confrontation would end in violence, saying the armed forces would “not dare” shoot their own people.
“On the contrary,” he insists.
“They will join the crowd, they will stand by the people and stop standing by dictator Hun Sen.
DESCENSION INTO DICTATORSHIP
Strongman Hun Sen’s decades-long reign over the Southeast Asian nation is synonymous with land grabbing, illegal logging and the mistreatment of garment workers.
Before last year’s general election, the CPP disbanded the opposition (CNRP) and imprisoned then party leader Kem Sokha on trumped-up treason charges.
This resulted in a bogus ballot with the CPP securing all 125 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly.
Nearly all free voices in the media were silenced in the lead-up to the election.
The Cambodia Daily was forced to shut after the government imposed spurious back taxes and the country’s other leading newspaper, The Phnom Penh Post, was sold to a Malaysian businessman from a public relations company that worked for the Cambodian government.
The strangulation of independent media extended to broadcast, with 32 radio stations critical of the regime forced to close including United States-funded stations Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the two countries had agreed to a secret long-term deal for China to use a nearby military base to allow it to strengthen its position in the region, particularly its disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Hun Sen said the report was the “worst fake news against Cambodia”, but it highlighted the growing concern of Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, which all lay claim to the same water next door to the Gulf of Thailand.
“We urge Cambodia’s leadership to honour its constitutional commitment to its people to pursue an independent foreign policy, and to protect Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty for future generations.”
Cambodia has relied on US aid and support in the decades preceding the annihilation from the repressive Khmer Rouge regime but it is increasingly leaning on funds from China, creating a problematic partnership for Washington.
THWARTED ON ARRIVAL
Mr Rainsy’s bid to face the machine guns at the Cambodian border on Saturday may be thwarted on arrival in Bangkok after Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he won’t allow CNRP leaders to enter his country.
He told reporters that in keeping with the agreement of member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — ASEAN — not to interfere in each other’s domestic affairs, he has given an order that no resistance organisation will be allowed to operate on Thai territory. “So, he won’t be able to enter Thailand,” Mr Prayuth said, referring to Sam Rainsy.
“I don’t give up. I will try to the last minute. I think no one should stand with Hun Sen — he is a dictator,” the 70-year-old politician, who maintains dual Cambodian and French citizenship, told The Associated Press.
INTIMIDATION EXTENDS TO JAKARTA
Cambodia’s ambassador to Indonesia on Wednesday had a face-to-face confrontation with a top opposition politician who was holding a news conference at a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, to explain the returnees’ plans.
Ambassador Hor Nambora barged into the news conference and spoke in front of the assembled journalists as CNRP vice-president Mu Sochua sat waiting to speak.
The envoy described the opposition politicians as fugitives and criminals, and accused Mu Sochua of trying to mislead Indonesian immigration authorities into thinking she was only a tourist by using her American passport.
Hor Nambora did not further disturb the proceedings, though he paced at the front of the conference room as Mu Sochua spoke.
And although the Southeast Asian nation is considered a developing country, its tourism industry has boomed in recent years, becoming a popular destination for Australians.
Nearly 150,000 Aussies visited Cambodia in 2016, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, flocking to beachside paradises in and around Sihanoukville and the ancient remains Angkor Wat in the northern city Siem Reap.
“Australia has consistently raised its concerns about the current political situation with the Cambodian Government, emphasising that free and open political debate, without intimidation, should be protected,” he said.
— with AP