At a two-hour rally yesterday evening, opposition leader Sam Rainsy addressed an enthusiastic crowd of around 500 SRP district and commune councilors by videoconference from France, reiterating that he plans to take evidence of supposed Vietnamese border encroachment to the international community.
“I think it is a good thing that [the government] made trouble for us, which gave us the opportunity to protect our territory and made others more interested in Cambodian politics and territory,” Mr Rainsy, his face projected on a big screen, told his supporters.
The opposition party leader was sentenced to two years in prison last week for uprooting temporary demarcation posts along the Vietnamese border, an act he says he committed to call attention to the issues of border encroachment and Hanoi’s influence on the Cambodian government.
The opposition leader, who has a home in Paris and was tried in absentia, told his supporters yesterday that he planned to spend the next few weeks making his case with European politicians.
“This week I will go to London for a meeting with government representatives and lawmakers, and then I’ll go to Berlin…before returning to France,” he said. After taking on Europe, he said, he would visit the US, Australia and Japan.
“I’ll go to all countries and organizations involved with Cambodia, especially the signatory countries to the Paris Peace accords,” he said.
Mr Rainsy insisted once again that his conviction was purely political, but he said he plans to use the setback—with a criminal conviction he can no longer hold a seat in parliament—as an opportunity to draw even more attention to Vietnam’s supposed encroachments on Cambodia’s eastern border.
“This is our pride, the Sam Rainsy Party’s pride, and the pride of all the members of the SRP,” he continued.
“We made the Vietnamese pull back for the first time in recent history!”
SRP lawmaker Ho Vann interrupted Mr Rainsy periodically. “Cheers for President Sam Rainsy’s success!” he cried. “Cheers for Sam Rainsy for protecting Cambodian territory!”
The crowd cheered in unison.
In addition to a virtual Mr Rainsy and political speeches, the rally featured food vendors, karaoke videos—including a rousing rendition of “Unchained Melody”—and a short SRP-produced documentary about Mr Rainsy’s Vietnamese border activism.
The DVD footage of the October protest at the Vietnamese border that led to Mr Rainsy’s conviction—and the jailing of two local villagers for a year each—was overlaid with a mournful Sinn Sisamouth dirge about the disintegration of the once-mighty Khmer Empire due to territorial encroachment.
“The most famous Cambodian cities were all grabbed by Thais and Vietnamese—[we are] losing in the west and also in the east,” the song goes. After Mr Rainsy addressed the councilors, several of them rose and delivered short, passionate speeches of their own.
Last night’s rally was the first of many other virtual visits by Mr Rainsy to be held around the country in the coming weeks, SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said.