King Norodom Sihanouk said Saturday that he is unable to help lift a travel ban on opposition activist Kem Sokha.
The King’s letter to Kem Sokha came as the government continued to indicate that it would seek to detain Kem Sokha and possibly other opposition activists for questioning in connection with their anti-government activities.
“I have helped you already,” the monarch wrote to Kem Sokha on Saturday. “But now I have no ability to help you any more.” He did not elaborate.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that a warrant is likely to be issued to force Kem Sokha to “clarify” his role in the “incitement” of recent unrest such as the violence against ethnic Vietnamese.
Kem Sokha could not be reached for comment Sunday. But on Saturday, the chairman of the former Assembly’s human rights commission told the Associated Press that perhaps he is being prevented from leaving the country because of his past criticism of the government’s human rights record.
Khieu Kanharith told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that warrants could be issued to mid-level members of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party. There were also rumors Sunday that others such as top student activists could be targeted.
But Nop Sophon, deputy municipal court chief judge, said Sunday that he is not aware of any warrants prepared for opposition figures. Khieu Kanharith indicated that warrants could be issued as early as today.
It was unclear if questioning also would involve Thursday’s rocket attack in Siem Reap, which CPP officials say was an attempt on Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s life.
National Police Chief Hok Lundy told reporters soon after the blast that he believed opposition parties were responsible and investigations would focus on their leaders.
But Khieu Kanharith told reporters at a Friday press conference broadcast on TVK that Hok Lundy had not meant to blame opposition parties. “The police is still investigating and no political party was accused,” he said. “We’re not jumping to conclusions.”
Hun Sen originally threatened to arrest opposition leaders after two grenades exploded within the compound of his Phnom Penh residence on Sept 7.
Rights workers and Cambodian legal experts have viewed the threat of arrest of opposition activists without compelling evidence of wrongdoing as harassment. “It will only heighten [the tension in Cambodia] even more,” one western rights worker said Sunday.
In a telephone conversation from Bangkok, opposition leader Sam Rainsy told Deutsche Press-Agentur on Sunday that Hun Sen was trying to coerce the opposition into ending the political crisis and form a new government. Negotiations are scheduled to start Tuesday.
“I think they try to frighten us, to put pressure on us, especially on me and Prince Ranariddh,” Sam Rainsy said. “It’s a very clear message: an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and blackmail…so the opposition leaders will give-in to their demands.”
UN and Cambodian legal experts have consistently said that a travel ban on any opposition figure is unconstitutional unless the government can produce a warrant or specific reason.
The government lifted the two-week travel ban on new parliamentarians soon after they were sworn in Thursday in Siem Reap town.
But the government has indicated that the ban still applies to Kem Sokha, who has been refused twice to leave the country. During his second attempt, he had secured a letter of permission from National Assembly President and CPP President Chea Sim which was ignored.
A Western rights worker said Sunday that it would be difficult for the government to prove that Kem Sokha incited violence. He noted, for example, that Kem Sokha intervened when protesters were vandalizing the Cambodia Vietnam Liberation Monument during the sit-in protest.
Kem Sokha did advocate that Hun Sen step down in at least one speech at what was dubbed Democracy Square. But rights workers and legal experts have said previously that such speech is protected by the Constitution and, furthermore, is to be expected at opposition protests in any democratic country.
Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that the police have tapes of Kem Sokha’s speeches.
The government has alleged that anti-Vietnamese speeches delivered by opposition figures contributed to a hostile climate that led to the street-beating deaths of at least four ethnic Vietnamese.