Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy, who fled the country in 2009 prior to being sentenced in absentia to 11 years in prison, on Saturday promised to return to Cambodia before the national election on July 28.
The longtime opposition leader has previously said he would come back to Cambodia only if he was allowed to participate in a free and fair election process.
“I am honored and happy to tell my much-missed, distinguished fellow Cambodians that I will be coming back to Cambodia. I will arrive in the motherland by election day—July 28, 2013,” Mr. Rainsy announced in a video posted to his Facebook page.
Seated in front of a Cambodian flag alongside a smaller flag bearing the rising sun logo of the CNRP, Mr. Rainsy offered no qualifications for his return.
“I dare to sacrifice my life for the sake of the nation. I dare to die to rescue the nation from destruction,” he said in the recording.
Contacted Sunday, Mr. Rainsy declined to give further details about when exactly he would return or how he might enter the country.
Authorities within Cambodia’s police forces said Sunday that if Mr. Rainsy returns, they are obliged to implement previous decisions by the courts that would see the opposition leader placed behind bars.
“Generally speaking, when criminals enter the country, they have to be sentenced in accordance with the court,” said Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the national police. “I am a law enforcer, so I cannot say more than this,” he added.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that Mr. Rainsy would be treated in accordance with the same laws under which he was sentenced to more than a decade in prison.
“I cannot speak directly, but you need to understand that [the] state of Cambodia is under [the] Constitution of 1993, and every decree or law under these conditions still remains,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy was first handed a two-year prison sentence in January 2010 for crimes related to the uprooting of demarcation posts along the Vietnamese border. In September 2010, he was sentenced to an additional 10 years in prison for crimes of forging public documents and spreading disinformation in relation to maps he published on the Internet to support his claim that Vietnam has been encroaching on Cambodian land. The totality of the sentence was later reduced by the Appeal Court to 11 years.
While Mr. Rainsy has long held that the charges against him were politically motivated, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Sunday that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government had “no opposition to Sam Rainsy at all.”
“As the prime minister already mentioned in a public forum, Sam Rainsy himself decided to leave voluntarily, and only he can decide to come back,” Mr. Siphan said.
“The government has no opposition to Sam Rainsy at all. But Sam Rainsy’s obligation [to serve his prison time] is another issue not related to the government,” he added.
This is not the first time that Mr. Rainsy has promised to return to the country after being sentenced over charges he claimed Mr. Hun Sen had a hand in.
Mr. Rainsy also decided to leave the country for more than a year in 2005 facing charges that he had defamed Mr. Hun Sen and then-National Assembly and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
In November 2005, after months in self-imposed exile, Mr. Rainsy promised to return to the country “in the near future.” In December of that year, he was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison for defamation. Three months later, Mr. Rainsy was pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni after writing public letters of apology to both Mr. Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh.
Despite numerous calls from international donors for the government to allow Mr. Rainsy’s return to contest July’s poll, no such political bargain has been struck in the lead-up to this year’s parliamentary election.
In July 2012, Surya Subedi, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, included Mr. Rainsy’s return among a litany of reforms necessary to ensure free and fair elections. Similar calls have been made by the U.S. State Department and the European Union.
In June, Mr. Rainsy was blocked from entering Thailand, a decision that the Thai Foreign Ministry said was made to prevent him from “manipulat[ing] political activities against the government of Cambodia.” Mr. Rainsy claimed that the denial of his entry was done at the behest of the administration of Mr. Hun Sen, a claim that the prime minister publicly denied.