Opposition leader Sam Rainsy visited the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng Wednesday, pressing former rank-and-file guerrillas for their support in the pending commune elections.
It was his first visit to the district since the Khmer Rouge defected to the government in 1996.
“Not all of the grass roots people in the Khmer Rouge are happy with the government and their former leaders, so they were glad to see me,” Sam Rainsy said.
Accusing the former ultra-Maoist leaders of “forgetting their people,” Sam Rainsy said he wanted to reach out to disaffected Khmer Rouge members for their political support.
Echoing the comments of Prime Minister Hun Sen from the premier’s earlier visit to the province, Sam Rainsy said he tried to reassure the Khmer Rouge’s low-level followers that they had nothing to fear from the upcoming war crimes tribunal.
“The low-ranking Khmer Rouge should not be afraid of the trial. I don’t believe the trial will cause a war,” Sam Rainsy said.
Hun Sen had claimed publicly that trying Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s former foreign minister who was granted an immunity from a 1979 death sentence, could lead to war.
“Those people there do not believe Hun Sen,” Sam Rainsy said.
Sam Rainsy said the visit was such a success that he will set up a party headquarters in the district and field a slate of candidates for the commune elections, which are tentatively scheduled for early next year in Cambodia’s more than 1,600 communes.
The opposition leader said the people of Anlong Veng are an untapped source of political power because many in the district are victims of government intimidation and neglect.
“These people are very, very poor. Development has been very slow. I find nothing in Anlong Veng that is developed. The people are very hungry,” he said.
During the last parliamentary elections, Sam Rainsy won the only National Assembly seat for the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin.