Government officials said yesterday they may seek to use diplomatic means to secure the return of fugitive SRP leader Sam Rainsy from France to face charges of spreading disinformation and disseminating false documents.
Cambodia has no extradition treaty with France, where Mr Rainsy holds citizenship and has been living for eight months, but Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that the government would ask France to help execute an arrest warrant issued last month after the SRP leader failed to attend a court hearing.
“We will contact the French Embassy to arrest him,” Lt Gen Sopheak said by telephone yesterday.
“We will use legal procedures to bring him back,” he added, before declining to elaborate. Lt Gen Sopheak said if Mr Rainsy is returned to Cambodia, authorities would immediately place him in jail to serve out his sentence.
“If we could arrest him, we would [also] imprison him based on the [Svay Rieng] court’s decision. We will send him to Prey Sar prison,” he said.
Mr Rainsy in January was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for uprooting temporary border demarcation posts along the frontier with Vietnam.
On Feb 26, the government lodged a second complaint against Mr Rainsy at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, accusing him of spreading disinformation and disseminating false documents in his attempts to prove that the border demarcation process had caused Cambodia to lose territory to Vietnam.
On April 20, the opposition leader failed to attend a court hearing in Phnom Penh where he had been summoned to answer an investigating judge’s questions about the fresh charges, which the court laid on March 12.
Koy Kuong, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday that a request to arrest and return Mr Rainsy to Cambodia would in fact have to be initiated by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, then passed through the Justice Ministry and Foreign Ministries before being passed to the French Embassy.
Mr Kuong added that though the two countries have not signed an extradition treaty there were other ways for such a request to proceed.
“For the legal procedure, the court has various procedures which are not [involved with] the use of an extradition” treaty, he said. “The court could use diplomatic ways to bring Mr Rainsy back,” Mr Kuong said.
Laurence Bernardi, spokeswoman for the French Embassy in Phnom Penh, said in an e-mail yesterday that the Cambodian government had not yet contacted the French Embassy about Mr Rainsy’s case.
“We have neither been informed nor approached regarding this issue,” Ms Bernardi wrote.
Yim Sovann, SRP lawmaker and spokesman, said he did not believe that the French government would consider sending Mr Rainsy back to Cambodia as the case was “political” in nature.
“I believe that the French government…will not do what the Cambodian government asks and they will also urge the Cambodian government to stop using the court system as a political tool,” Mr Sovann said.