Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy has gone into hiding after reports that he may be arrested for involvement in the anti-Thai riots that erupted in Phnom Penh Jan 29, officials said Monday.
A senior government official also confirmed that police have compiled material against opposition party lawmakers that could prove their involvement in the riots.
“[Sam Rainsy] is taking precautions not to expose himself in public…. He is worried some harm will come,” said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, adding that National Assembly members had received credible reports that arrests will follow the government’s investigation into the gutting of the Thai Embassy.
Son Chhay said he too was taking precautions, as it was likely that other senior opposition party members may also be implicated. Several Sam Rainsy Party officials Monday would not divulge the whereabouts of Sam Rainsy and he could not be contacted by telephone.
Sam Rainsy sent letters on Sunday to both the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Military Court in Phnom Penh inquiring if legal action was being taken against him.
Sam Rainsy also sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra asking the Thai premier to clarify if elements within the Thai Royal Army have accused him of being behind the riots.
“Your kind response will have far-reaching consequences on [the] honor, security, freedom of thousands of [the] opposition’s active members, including my own,” Sam Rainsy said in the letter to Thaksin.
A US Embassy official on Monday would not comment on a report in opposition newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) that claimed Sam Rainsy was in hiding at the embassy. Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said the report was incorrect.
“He is staying in a safe place in Phnom Penh. He will hide in the safe place indefinitely for security reasons,” Eng Chhay Eang said, adding that Sam Rainsy will only resurface when given assurances from Prime Minister Hun Sen that arrests will not take place.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that Sam Rainsy has not been named as a suspect.
However, police have photographs and videotapes of opposition lawmakers meeting with students to allegedly organize the anti-Thai demonstrations, he said.
“I did not yet see Sam Rainsy in the demonstration. But SRP members of parliament called students and met them in Tonle Bati [in Takeo province] to organize them for the demonstration. This was before the riots,” he said.
“We have the photos and video cassettes. I do not say this is evidence yet, but police are working on it,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Sam Rainsy claimed last week that several Funcinpec members had warned him to prepare for possible arrest.
The royalist members said a warrant was planned and that this week the Assembly would be asked to vote on removing Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity—a necessary step before arrest.
Hun Sen has laid the blame for the riots on “extremist politicians.” However, many questions remain unanswered regarding the delayed reaction of Cambodian security forces to the Jan 29 riots.