Foreign Ministry Comments on Rainsy’s Possible Return

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy will be allowed to return to Cambodia, but would face an 11-year jail term for his conviction on charges of disinformation and destruction of public property.

Mr. Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said Saturday that he would return to Cambodia before the July 28 national election. He has been out of the country since 2009 avoiding the convictions he says are politically motivated.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, speaking to reporters at a ceremony to mark the signing of $200 million-worth of new loans from South Korea, which was also attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, briefly addressed the opposition leader’s possible return.

“When Sam Rainsy left, no one threw him out. And when Sam Rainsy comes back, no one will stop him,” Mr. Namhong said, without elaborating.

Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong also told reporters that the law would be applied to Mr. Rainsy if and when he returns to the country.

“We, the government, always enforce the internal rule in Cambodia. So what the courts have decided, we will follow that,” he said.

Mr. Rainsy’s 2010 convictions for uprooting a border post and for forgery and disinformation—relating to a map of the Cambodian-Vietnamese border—total 11 years of outstanding jail time.

Mr. Kuong also said that Mr. Rainsy’s presence in Cambodia was not a prerequisite for a free and fair election.

“It is an individual issue, it is not a party issue,” Mr. Kuong said.

“His party members are actively and bravely carrying out their duties in the country during the campaign period. Sam Rainsy’s presence, or lack of presence, is not affecting the election process. Even his party is running smoothly and actively.”

Since making the announcement, Mr. Rainsy has so far declined to specify a date, or route, for his return to Cambodia.

CNRP National Assembly candidate Kimsour Pirith said he could not say exactly when Mr. Rainsy would be coming back, but suggested it would be some time after July 20.

“I am not sure when exactly, it’s perhaps the early 20s,” Mr. Pirith said, adding that the party was already making plans for its president to take part in campaigning events, which have so far been led by CNRP vice president Kem Sokha.

Mr. Pirith also said Mr. Rainsy would not try to avoid authorities on his return.

“He is volunteering to come, and if police want to put him in jail, he will walk himself into the prison,” he said.

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