Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Thursday that police may choose not to execute an arrest warrant for deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, which the courts say is forthcoming, if they believed his arrest would cause “blood to flow, clashes or acts of violence.”
The CNRP has threatened mass protests if Mr. Sokha is arrested for failing to show up for court questioning last week as a “witness” in his own sex scandal. On May 26, police unsuccessfully tried to arrest him, and he was provisionally charged the next day.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court director said on Monday that an arrest warrant was on the way, but General Sopheak said in a radio interview with Vayo FM on Thursday that police could ignore the warrant.
“According to the law, if we have a warrant from the courts to arrest, the competent authorities have to implement the warrant,” Gen. Sopheak said.
“But we think that if implementing this arrest warrant will cause blood to flow, clashes or acts of violence, I think the authorities will think—will not implement it.”
Gen. Sopheak explained only that the Interior Ministry had the responsibility to ensure social order, but did not say whether that meant the arrest warrant would be ignored forever. The spokesman could not be reached by telephone.
Kem Monovithya, Mr. Sokha’s daughter and the CNRP’s deputy public affairs director, said on Thursday that Gen. Sopheak’s remarks did not give the CNRP hope that the current political tensions were over.
“This is not about Kem Sokha, it’s about calling for an end to judicial abuses once and for all. Enough is enough,” Ms. Monovithya said in an email. She did not respond to follow-up emails on the case.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he too did not take Gen. Sopheak’s comments to be an indication the government would let the deputy opposition leader live freely.
“No,” Mr. Sovann said. “We don’t want to make any more comments. We are monitoring the situation.”
Asked how long Mr. Sokha might stay in the apparent safety of the CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters—where he has been holed up since last week—Mr. Sovann said: “We don’t know. It depends on the situation.”
The CNRP says Mr. Sokha is protected by his immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker, but the ruling CPP’s 68 lawmakers on Monday voted to allow authorities to continue their prosecution of him, in a controversial vote the CNRP says is unconstitutional.
Besides the threats of arrest against Mr. Sokha, CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An and opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour are also in jail, despite their immunity from prosecution. Four officials from the rights group Adhoc, an opposition commune chief and an elections official are also in prison in a case related to Mr. Sokha allegedly taking a mistress.
Outside the CNRP’s headquarters on Thursday, Pol Ham, the head of the opposition’s standing committee, told supporters that he had just talked inside with Mr. Sokha, who said the CPP’s motivations for attacking him were clear.
“Just now, he said: ‘The purpose is not only to cause trouble with Kem Sokha. We can see they seem to try to cut off the head of the CNRP and throw it away,’” he said, adding that Mr. Sokha wanted negotiations.
“One more thing—we have not shut down negotiations, and the ruling party did not shut them down, but when we want to meet them, they claim they are too busy. That is beyond belief,” Mr. Ham said.
“It’s not necessary to submit a letter. They know where the CNRP is, where the CNRP leaders are, and the CNRP’s culture of dialogue [team] is led by Pol Ham, and Pol Ham is still here every day.”
Mr. Ham then called on the CPP to stop pretending it had not engineered the present legal cases against the opposition officials and activists.
“Please, let’s negotiate together, and please don’t say the words ‘The releasing of the prisoners is the jurisdictions of the courts.’ Oh, Preah Ang Dangkor!,” he said, referring to the powerful and popular spirit.
“This claim about jurisdiction is an excuse to avoid the facts.”
Yet CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said it was not clear who would lead the CNRP in potential talks, given Mr. Sokha’s situation and opposition leader Sam Rainsy being in France to avoid a two-year prison sentence for defamation.
In any case, Mr. Eysan said, the CPP was too busy to meet on a whim and needed an official letter from the CNRP if they wanted to talk.
“For the present issue, we cannot meet them because the leaders of the government and the majority group in the Assembly are much too busy, there’s no time to sit and want negotiations,” Mr. Eysan said.
“If they want to negotiate, I would like to inform them to first submit a letter through the Assembly’s secretary-general. Second, please decide who are the leaders of the minority lawmaker group. Third, please clarify a specific subject for negotiations.”
The spokesman then rebuked a reporter for suggesting that current political climate was tense.
“The situation right now is not tense,” Mr. Eysan said. “It’s like how the sky is today: good. Neither the weather nor the politics has any tension.”