Thailand puts crimp in return plans of Cambodian opposition

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand has barred a top leader of Cambodia’s opposition party from entering the country, casting doubt on plans for its exiled leaders to return to their homeland against the Cambodian government’s wishes.

Mu Sochua, a former lawmaker of the court-disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party, said she was deported last Sunday after arriving at Bangkok’s international airport.

Party co-founder Sam Rainsy has declared that he and other exiled colleagues plan to return to Cambodia on November 9, along with a mass of Cambodian supporters who also live outside the country.

While Thailand has never been publicly specified, it is the only practical location for such a plan. Thailand hosts hundreds of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers, and Cambodia’s other neighbours are its political allies with authoritarian governments.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said security forces would stop or arrest the would-be returnees, whom he has called traitors. He said on Tuesday that he had already given instructions to the armed forces on how to deal with Sam Rainsy and his supporters and did not intend to talk more about the subject.

Vice President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Mu Sochua. PHOTO: AP

Mu Sochua, who is the opposition party’s deputy chief, said by phone from the United States yesterday that the group was in contact with Thai lawmakers about its situation and would also send a message to Thailand’s government explaining its reasons and intentions.

“We remain confident and hopeful that Thailand will understand,” she said.

“There are other ways to go to Cambodia,” she added, without specifying further but asserting the group’s determination to carry out its plan. She said some 300-400 overseas Cambodians planning to join the return would be meeting in Seattle this coming weekend.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said she had no information about Mu Sochua’s deportation, and declined to comment about how Thailand’s relations with Cambodia might be involved.

Hun Sen’s government has reacted furiously to the opposition plan, thundering almost daily about its intentions to block it and threatening anyone supporting it with arrest and long prison sentences. Dozens of people have been detained.

Sam Rainsy has been active in using social media to rally support for his party.

“My calls to the people and the armed forces of #Cambodia to rise up against the regime will continue until the regime has restored to the opposition its right to participate in the country’s political life including genuine elections,” Sam Rainsy said on Twitter in late September.

A party statement on October 3 took a gentler approach, saying: “We are going back because we believe in the power of dialogue. Our only means to achieve change is the power of word and conviction. We have no arms. Our political mission is peace and reconciliation, prosperity and dignity, unity and strength.”