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Exiled Cambodian opposition figurehead arrives in Malaysia

10 November 2019

The move on Sunday came a day after self-exiled acting opposition leader Sam Rainsy failed to return to Cambodia, as promised, and a few days before the European Union is scheduled to finalise its report on the potential withdrawal of a key trade agreement.

The lawyer said that Kem Sokha needs time to review the court's conditional restrictions before deciding when to leave home and speak to the media.

"Under the new requirements, he can travel anywhere but can't leave Cambodia ..."

Travelling overland to Cambodia now seems impossible as the leader of neighbouring Thailand has said he will not allow the opposition figure to transit through the kingdom.

The CNRP on Friday urged Cambodian authorities and neighboring countries to allow Sam Rainsy and other CNRP officials "free and peaceful entry" to Cambodia, and to "ensure their safety and free movement" there, mirroring a statement by 56 lawmakers from the European Parliament a day earlier.

Hun Sen, 67, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled the country of 16 million for more than 34 years with an iron hand and an ability to play off his opponents against each other.

"Keep up the hope".

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Sam Rainsy greets supporters after arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia on Saturday.

"By doing so, he's revealing the true goal of the security forces - to intimidate, and repress the rights and democratic aspirations of the Cambodian people". "Democracy will prevail in Cambodia".

Rainsy fled to Paris in 2015 after a conviction for criminal defamation and faces a five-year sentence in a separate case - charges he says were politically motivated.

"Only in Hun Sen's repressive Cambodia would letting someone out of house arrest after two years on politically fabricated charges be considered "progress" of some sort". Security has been tightened on both sides of the Thailand-Cambodia border to prevent any attempts by opposition figures to cross. Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng wrote on Facebook on Saturday that he can return unimpeded as an ordinary person, while vowing to take any necessary legal action. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had said earlier that he would be barred from entering Thailand.

More than 50 more people have been arrested in recent weeks since Rainsy said he planned to return home from self-exile in France to rally opposition to Mr Hun Sen.

Security in Phnom Penh was heavy and on especially high alert Saturday at the country's border checkpoint at Poipet in the country's northwest, where Sam Rainsy and his top party leaders had announced that they and their supporters would be crossing from Thailand.

The celebration took place under tight security in the capital, Phnom Penh, with King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen looking on.

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An opposition official in Thailand said plans to return on Saturday were abandoned. "It does not allow our president Kem Sokha to exercise his political freedom, it does not allow him to go overseas", he said.

"You can see the intimidation, the harassment, the crackdown, the arrests".

"There will be no dialogue with the rebels, who are led by Sam Rainsy", he said.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, he refused to disclose his plans but said, "I will go back home, it is my right, it is my duty".

Last week, Cambodia's civil aviation authority announced a ban on commercial airlines that serve the country from ferrying him and seven other CNRP officials, as well as his wife, who were charged along with the party chief in September with "attempting to stage a coup" in connection with his planned return. "More governments in ASEAN need to emulate Malaysia if the bloc is ever going to rid itself of its reputation as a rights abusing club of recalcitrant dictators".

It was only when Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy brought together rival opposition factions ahead of elections in 2013 that they posed a serious electoral threat to Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

The Trump administration, also on Friday, condemned the recent arrests and reminded Malaysia of its obligations under worldwide law barring the return of people to face torture.

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Mr Sokha was arrested more than two years ago and charged with treason ahead of a 2018 election that was condemned by Western countries as a farce.

Exiled Cambodian opposition figurehead arrives in Malaysia