Rainsy Is Still ‘a Hostage’

Sam Rainsy returned to his Phnom Penh home Thursday after 10 days sheltering in a UN office, still considering himself a government hostage.

“The democratic process has been derailed,” the opposition leader said at his house Thursday evening. “The MPs have been elected but we are held hostage. We are going to the negotiating table under threat.”

Sam Rainsy had just returned from Siem Reap, where he told King Norodom Sihanouk he would participate in a summit with CPP and Funcinpec leaders next week and would help convene the National Assembly. He said he had little choice but to agree.

“The Sam Rainsy Party is the third party. Whether we want it or not, we are not the master,” he lamented, in his first interview since he sought UN protection Sept 7.

Sam Rainsy took refuge in the office of the UN at the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana fearing arrest after the Sept 7 grenade attack on the Phnom Penh home of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. Now back at home, with only one UN monitor outside the door, he feels he can only be safe if he plays the game the government wants.

“It is a tacit deal between the government and I,” he explained . “If you behave well, there will be no warrant. Be flexible, they say, don’t oppose the negotiating process.”

The man who led thousands through the streets of Phnom Penh to protest what he said were fraudulent and irregular elections now accepts that negotiation is the only way forward.

His options are limited, not only because he feels coerced by the government, he said, but also to stop further violence.

“We would push harder if there would be no bloodshed, if we could continue with our peaceful demonstrations,” he said. “We do not want to disappoint the people, but we must avoid bloodshed.”

He said he regretted the violence of the last 10 days, condemning the police for beating demonstrators, but insisted that the protesters involved were beyond his control.

A “forced guest” of the UN, Sam Rainsy slept on the floor in UN special representative Lak­han Mehrotra’s office “like a squatter,” and was under constant surveillance, including from UN staff. He had few doubts that the protection he was afforded in the office amounted to little more than what he called “protection in mind,” protection based on a hope that the government would not think it sensible to attack the office of a UN representative.

While he thanked the UN for accommodating an opposition politician, he was still critical of the international body’s stance on the political crisis.

“They are receptive to the government’s arguments,” he said. “They put the CPP on the same moral footing, as if the victim could be treated as equally as the aggressor. I understand the need to be on good terms with everyone, but I am frustrated.”

He expressed equal exasperation with the international community for accepting the results of the July election without question.

“We feel very frustrated; this is unacceptable. The Friends of Cambodia cannot pretend we are in the democratic process.” But he hasn’t given up hope that the international community still can pressure the government.

“They want the resumption of international assistance, they want foreign investment,” he said of Hun Sen’s party. “What else can we use to counterbalance the power of the CPP?”

(Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)


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