Sam Rainsy, Cambodia‘s self-exiled opposition leader, has landed in the Malaysian capital after promising to return home to rally opponents of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Keep up the hope. We are on the right track,” Sam Rainsy said in a message to his supporters, after arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday. “Democracy will prevail. Democracy has prevailed in Malaysia. Democracy will prevail in Cambodia.”
He and fellow members of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had publicly declared that they planned to return to their homeland on November 9, Cambodia’s Independence Day, to trigger a popular movement to force Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than three decades, from office.
The Cambodian government has vigorously opposed their return, characterising it as a coup attempt against Hun Sen.
Cambodia’s Rainsy ‘refused boarding’ onto Paris-Bangkok flight (2:47)
Sam Rainsy, who has lived in self-exile in France since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions he says are politically motivated, had long promised a return on Cambodia’s Independence Day.
But on Thursday, he was blocked from boarding a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok in Paris. A day later, he boarded a plane in the French capital without disclosing his destination. He and other CNRP leaders have said they want to return to Cambodia by crossing the land border with Thailand.
Malaysia has no border with Cambodia.
Asked whether he planned to return to Cambodia, Sam Rainsy told reporters at the airport in Kuala Lumpur: “I cannot say anything. I do not deny, I do not confirm.”
He declared that his visit was a private one and that he was grateful to the Malaysian authorities.
The statement was evidently meant to sidestep the issue of whether he was interfering with Cambodia’s internal affairs while on Malaysian soil.
Malaysia and Cambodia are both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which maintains a policy of noninterference in each other’s affairs. Malaysia and Thailand have both hindered the free movement of opposition party leaders, drawing criticism from human rights groups.
A CRNP official in Thailand said nobody would be returning to Cambodia on Saturday.
“We will be returning as soon as possible,” Saory Pon, the party’s general-secretary told Reuters news agency, complaining that some party officials in Thailand had been harassed and followed by security services.
Phay Siphan, a spokesman for Cambodia’s government, said that if Sam Rainsy did return he would face outstanding charges against him in court.
“If he comes to cause instability and chaos, we will destroy him,” he said.