A day after being sentenced to two years in jail, opposition party president Sam Rainsy said he would take his fight to the international community yesterday, claiming he had the evidence in his hands to prove land encroachment by Vietnam.
“This is not a personal issue. This is a national issue. This is our territory for Khmers,” Mr Rainsy said in a video conference from France, mentioning upcoming planned travels in Europe, North American and Australia.
“Now is the political and diplomatic approach to friendly nations and international organizations,” he said.
Mr Rainsy pointed again to maps created by the Sam Rainsy Party, which the party claims show four border demarcation points placed several hundred meters inside Cambodian territory. He said several experts in various fields helped compile the data for the maps and stated he would release the names of those involved but added he must ask their permission before making their names public.
Facing a two-year prison term and a fine of roughly 26 million riel, Mr Rainsy remained abroad yesterday but spoke from Paris to supporters and journalists during a morning video conference at SRP headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Svay Rieng Provincial Court convicted him on Wednesday in absentia for racial incitement and uprooting demarcation posts on the border with Vietnam. Two villagers-Prum Chea and Meas Srey-were also convicted for damaging the six posts and are now serving one-year prison terms.
On a projected video screen, the opposition leader brushed aside concerns of how his conviction would affect his position as party president. By law, Mr Rainsy can not retain his seat in parliament due to his criminal conviction. However, he stressed the appeal process would provide enough time to deal with any political fallout.
“I have some time before me to do this work,” he said.
The SRP maintained its stance that Vietnamese authorities had a hand in the court case against Mr Rainsy and the two convicted villagers. Acting party SRP president Kong Korm said the Cambodian government is following orders from its larger neighbor.
“The owners of the property have lost their land from the demarcation posts and now they were jailed and whoever stole their property was not jailed but they are free,” he said after the news conference. “It is unjust for them.”
To back the claim, SRP officials have pointed to a report by the Voice of Vietnam state radio where Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung “proposed that the Cambodian government take due measures to deal with Rainsy’s acts of sabotage” which “negatively affect the fine relations between the two nations.”
Trinh Ba Cam, spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy, said he was too busy to comment when contacted by telephone yesterday.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan called the claims of Vietnamese influence in the prosecution of Mr Rainsy “untrue” and added, “We have to respect neighboring countries.”
Yesterday, the opposition party also ratcheted up its rhetoric against the Cambodian government, saying officials with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government are responsible for illegal logging but continually go free.
“Those powerful and wealthy people walk free while powerless and poor farmers protesting land grabbing are put in jail,” according to a statement by SRP members of parliament.
The case “is another illustration of the Cambodian judiciary’s double standard,” they said.