No Prisoner Talks While Rainsy Bites, CPP Says

The ruling party is refusing to continue negotiations over the release of at least five jailed government critics because opposition leader Sam Rainsy continues to hurl insults at the CPP from exile, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman said on Wednesday.

Mr. Rainsy’s racially charged criticism of the CPP’s celebrations around January 7, the day that Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979, undermined any attempt to build trust between the two parties, said spokesman Khieu Sopheak, director of Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s Cabinet.

cam photo sokha
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy addresses CNRP youth members last year via videolink during a meeting at the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

“I want to say the dialogue would be impossible unless we are on the same level, agree with each other and don’t trip on each other’s legs,” General Sopheak said.

Mr. Kheng and Prime Minister Hun Sen met with acting CNRP President Kem Sokha on December 7 and appeared to set the wheels in motion for the release of four officers with rights group Adhoc and a senior election official, all arrested in May for allegedly bribing a mistress of Mr. Sokha to deny an affair.

The CNRP walked away from the meeting believing the five would be released by the end of last month, while Mr. Kheng told reporters they might be freed by then. But with the new year well underway, the five—among 27 political prisoners in Cambodia, according to rights group Licadho—have now spent 258 days in prison.

Gen. Sopheak said that Mr. Rainsy’s use of January 7 to attack the ruling party for its ties to Vietnam, which installed the current CPP leaders in power when it began a 10-year occupation of Cambodia, illustrated why talks with the CNRP would be useless.

“If you still accuse [us] of being Yuon puppets, why do you want to negotiate with Yuon puppets?” he said, using a sometimes derogatory term for Vietnamese people. “If we still oppose each other’s point of view, what’s the advantage if we negotiate?”

Mr. Rainsy said the suggestion that he was stalling the release of the five was proof that they were political prisoners being used as bargaining chips, a claim the ruling party has repeatedly denied.

“Your very questions on the relation between any political comments I have been making and the status of the negotiations to free the Adhoc 5 from prison, show that we are actually and irrefutably dealing with political prisoners who are nothing else but hostages held by Hun Sen’s CPP to advance its political agenda,” he said in an email.

“This is just unacceptable and should be condemned by the whole world,” he added. “The CPP now shows its real face as an unreliable and unworthy negotiation partner when it claims —while keeping the Adhoc 5 in prison—that the cases of those prisoners are ‘in the hands of the court’ and ‘beyond their reach.’ But, at the same time, they let the CNRP know that things could change if we give in to their blackmail.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, a former legal adviser to the opposition, said that since Mr. Sokha was pardoned from a five-month prison sentence related to his “prostitution” case early last month, every move by the CPP has been meant to sow division within the CNRP.

He said the latest position put forward by Gen. Sopheak on the release was an attempt to shift public anger over the imprisoned human rights workers onto the opposition leader.

“It is being used as an excuse for not delivering on their promise,” he said. “The public will blame the activists being in jail on Sam Rainsy.”

Mr. Mong Hay said that others in the CNRP were clearly trying to keep the political arena calm leading up to commune elections in June, but that the idea that Mr. Rainsy would follow was a fantasy.

“With Sam Rainsy, I don’t think he can be quiet. Like all politicians, he behaves like that to show ‘I am here and kicking,’” he said. “It’s not good for his party to keep quiet. Otherwise, the public will forget about them.”

Cham Bunthet, a political analyst and adviser to the Grassroots Democracy Party, said the opposition should hone in on specific issues and injustices for its activism rather than tossing personal insults at the ruling party.

“I agree with the government that Sam Rainsy keeps criticizing people and negotiations should not happen because you are against people,” he said. “What the opposition needs to do is focus on unjust conditions, rule, unjust practices, the same as jailing people.”

Personal attacks against Mr. Hun Sen and his relationship with Vietnam played well among the electorate, and helped keep donations coming from supporters living overseas, but ultimately do nothing to change the state of politics in the country, Mr. Bunthet said.

“Engage people, bring people in, demand for change to reach that ideal. Don’t just attack people to gain support and get money from people,” he said. “In Cambodia, against the oppressors, that type of politics is weak.”

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