Sam Rainsy Reiterates Vow To Return Next Month

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Sunday repeated his pledge to re­turn to Cambodia in mid-September despite suggestions from a military court judge that he could be linked to the “shadow ar­my” that opposition parliamentarian Che­am Channy was jailed for forming.

Military Court Director General Ney Thol, who presided over Che­am Channy’s controversial trial last week, said by telephone Sunday that testimony from the trial im­plicated Sam Rainsy in the formation of the “shadow army.”

“We have [evidence] from Che­am Channy’s testimony that Sam Rainsy ordered the formation of the illegal shadow army,” Ney Thol said. He also alleged that or­ganizations such as the US-back­ed International Republican Institute had pushed the opposition leader to form the “shadow ar­my.”

Ney Thol accused “foreigners” of convincing Sam Rainsy to form the “shadow army” and warned Sam Rainsy that one should not “cause problems to one’s nation.”

The IRI on Sunday declined immediate comment.

Sam Rainsy said on Sunday that he would return to Cambodia in mid-September.

“I know that in the current Che­am Channy case I am probably their ultimate target,” Sam Rainsy wrote in an e-mail. “But nobody will be­lieve them if they try to im­plicate me after the much decried court pro­ceeding over the past few days.”

He defended his decision to come back, saying the government was increasingly under pressure from the international community for violating democratic principles.

“Unless they accept to be classified as a Burmese-type government, they have to stop their totalitarian drift,” he added.

The government faced heavy criticism from the US Embassy and many rights groups after sentencing Cheam Channy to seven years in prison last week.

Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay on Sunday morning ex­pres­sed worry about the judge’s words and said they might put in jeopardy Sam Rainsy’s planned re­turn.

He said members of the opposition party initially were relieved that no evidence linking Sam Rainsy to the “shadow army” was brought up at the trial but that comments by Ney Thol on Radio Free Asia and reported in Kh­mer-language press worried them.

“We don’t understand what the gov­ernment is trying to do,” he said.

But by Sunday afternoon Son Chhay had relaxed his tone, ex­plaining that the evidence against the opposition was weak, that the op­position had the support of the in­ternational community and that Sam Rainsy should not change his plans.

“If I were Sam Rainsy, I would come back,” he said. “But it’s up to Sam Rainsy.

Both Son Chhay and Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eng dismissed the judge’s comments as an attempt to intimidate the opposition.

“Ney Thol’s press conference Saturday was aimed at intimidating the opposition party,” Eng Chhay Eng said, adding that he was probably encouraged to make the comments by “powerful men.”

“I follow the law,” Ney Thol re­torted. “My decision is based on law. I am independent.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Sunday denied that Sam Rainsy was in danger of be­ing arrested but refused to confirm or deny whether court proceedings might eventually be brought against him.

“There is no arrest warrant against him, so he is free to come,” Khieu Kanharith said. But, he added: “If the court asks him to go to court, he must go.”

“If he is brave, he should come back,” Ney Thol said.

Sam Rainsy faces two defamation suits, one brought against him by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the other by National Assembly Presi­dent Prince Norodom Rana­riddh.

“That hasn’t changed, that’s still in place,” Noranarith Anadayath, the prince’s cabinet chief, said Sunday of the defamation case.

Also on Sunday a news release from the Sam Rainsy Party re­ceived in the evening said op­position parliamentarian Chea Poch, who along with Sam Rainsy was stripped of his parliamentary immunity on Feb 3 and fled the country, would be returning to Cambodia at 10 am this morning.

Son Chhay said Sunday that Chea Poch had in recent weeks expressed a desire to return to Cam­bodia and that he did not be­lieve he faced any imminent danger of arrest.

“I personally don’t believe the government has a good excuse to arrest him,” he said.


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