Activist Brothers Plan Return to Cambodia

Twin brothers who were granted temporary asylum in Thailand by the U.N. last month said on Thursday that they planned to return to Cambodia, citing a cooler political climate and a desire to continue their environmental activism.

Chum Hour and Chum Hout flew to Thailand on July 14, saying they feared for their safety due to an interview they gave hours after Kem Ley’s July 10 murder at a convenience store in Phnom Penh. In the interview, they said they saw three men spying on them during a meeting with Kem Ley at the mini-mart two days earlier.

Chum Huor and Chum Huot on a Bangkok Airways flight out of Cambodia in a photograph posted to their Facebook page on Thursday morning.
Chum Huor and Chum Huot on a Bangkok Airways flight out of Cambodia in a photograph posted to their Facebook page in July.

On July 27, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok issued the brothers asylum cards valid for one year. Mr. Hout said at the time that they hoped to relocate to the U.S.

On Thursday, however, Mr. Hour said that he and his brother planned to come back to Cambodia sometime this week after all.

“We’ve already decided that we will not go to a third country,” he said from Bangkok. “We will go back to Cambodia to continue the work that we do for the entire Khmer society.”

“One of the most important reasons for our decision to come back to Cambodia was because we want to continue our activism against the construction of the Don Sahong hydropower dam,” he continued, referring to the planned 256-megawatt facility in Laos.

“We were told that if we moved to a third country, we would be required to stay in the third country for at least five years before we are able to come back to Cambodia, and we think that’s way too long.”

Mr. Hour said he and his brother would return by the end of the week but declined to give a specific date.

“We are still concerned about our safety, but we have noticed that the situation in Cambodia has been a bit calmer,” he said. “We have consulted with our lawyer, and the NGO that was helping us move to a third country, about how to protect ourselves when we are back.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan characterized the twins as opportunists who failed their obligations to the justice system.

“Their decision was made too fast,” he said of the twins.

“Those who wanted to flee the country, they have an obligation to cooperate with the court by providing any evidence they have [related to Kem Ley’s murder] and not take advantage of the situation.”

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