Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has pleaded with supporters to not compare him with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying he is not afraid of returning to Cambodia to face a jail sentence, but fears he might needlessly be killed.
Mr. Rainsy’s flight into exile last year after authorities rekindled an old prison sentence for him has been criticized by supporters and opponents alike over the past month as his deputy, Kem Sokha, has remained in Cambodia and stared down government efforts to arrest him.
Speaking to Cambodian-Americans in Lowell, Massachusetts, on Sunday as part of a U.S. fundraising trip, Mr. Rainsy was grilled about why he was not challenging Prime Minister Hun Sen and his arrest.
“I am not afraid. If I were jailed, if I were killed, and my country lives, I would agree at once. Be assured, if Sam Rainsy goes to Cambodia now, if I am jailed, if they kill Sam Rainsy, it’s no problem,” Mr. Rainsy said in a video of the speech posted to his Facebook page on Thursday.
“But after I am jailed, after I die, please confirm that Cambodia is freed from the claws of the Yuon, and I would agree,” he added, using a term for the Vietnamese often considered derogatory. “I am not afraid of dying, but dying with usefulness.”
Mr. Rainsy, who has frequently compared his fight against the ruling CPP to the fight in Burma led by Ms. Suu Kyi, then asked that people not compare his decision to flee Cambodia with her choice to endure 15 years of house arrest.
“Don’t compare Sam Rainsy with Aung San Suu Kyi, and especially don’t compare Cambodia with Burma,” he said. “The Burmese talk together, are patriotic together, and find solutions peacefully.”
“They and their military have never had the goal of killing Aung San Suu Kyi—only to jail her in her house. They never tried to kill her,” he said.
In Burma, they “came to a solution between the Burmese and Burmese. But the problem in Cambodia is not a problem between the Khmer and the Khmer; it’s a problem between the Khmer and the Yuon,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy said his opposition to Vietnamese territorial violations and illegal immigration and the Cambodian government’s close relationship with Hanoi made things different here. He did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Sunday will mark a month since Mr. Sokha began staying inside CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh, where supporters have been keeping vigil to protect him from another arrest attempt.
On May 26, armed police attempted to arrest him in front of the building, but Mr. Sokha retreated to safety inside. He has vowed to remain in Cambodia amid threats of more arrests.
Veasna Roeun, a former refugee who lives in Connecticut and serves as vice president of the CNRP-supporting Cambodia-America Alliance, said some people were growing frustrated with Mr. Rainsy’s failure to live up to the strong rhetoric of his speeches.
“At the moment, many of us in America are supportive of the opposition because anything is better than Hun Sen, but it’s unfortunate that that’s the reason for support. The reason for the support should be absolute belief and confidence in the leader,” he said.
“At the end of the day, Sam Rainsy has to decide if what he’s doing is truly for the people and the Kingdom, or for other reasons.”
In Phnom Penh, outside the CNRP headquarters, party spokesman Yim Sovann said on Thursday the opposition was now hoping to deliver a petition directly to King Norodom Sihamoni calling for him to intervene in the CPP’s persecution of its opponents.
After last month’s arrest attempt of Mr. Sokha, the CNRP delivered 170,000 thumbprints to the Royal Palace supporting a similar petition. The government has since asserted some were forgeries and threatened to prosecute CNRP officials.
“We want to deliver the petition straight to the king, because we don’t trust anyone anymore,” Mr. Sovann said, adding that the party was waiting to hear back from the Royal Palace about its request.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a CNRP steering committee member, said he had no issue with the direct petitioning of the king, but that it was unlikely to happen.
“Anything is possible in Cambodia,” the prince said. “But so far, I think the king has never received any petition directly, so I don’t see an opportunity for him to do so in the current circumstances.”
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)