Sam Rainsy Suspends Plans to Return to Phnom Penh

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has canceled his planned return to Phnom Penh tonight to face arrest and a two-year jail sentence ordered last week, writing on his Facebook page that he will instead return to Cambodia “in the next few days” during daylight hours.

“I am not arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport tonight at 22:20 as originally scheduled, but will be back in Cambodia in the next few days,” Mr. Rainsy wrote in a post on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Rainsy explained that the decision to cancel his return, which he pledged to make during a speech on Saturday night, had come after “consulting with colleagues in Cambodia and a number of international pro-democracy organizations”

He said the advice was that “I should arrive in Phnom Penh in broad daylight and that I should also leave some time for diplomatic intervention to materialize with the objective of reaching a peaceful solution to the recent escalation of violence in Cambodia.”

The opposition leader has a history of avoiding seemingly political criminal convictions by using his French passport to remain outside Cambodia, but pledged during a speech in South Korea on Saturday to return this time and face prison.

“They are coming to catch Sam Rainsy. Is Sam Rainsy scared? No!” Mr. Rainsy shouted to a crowd of hundreds of Cambodian students and migrant workers during a rally in Busan.

Earlier on Monday, the CPP-controlled National Assembly standing committee met and decided to oust Mr. Rainsy from his position as an elected member of the National Assembly, also stripping him of his immunity from prosecution.

Committee for Free and Fair Elections director Koul Panha said he believed Mr. Rainsy was hoping to negotiate a solution, but that the opposition leader risked looking like he was going back on his word to return.

“He’s hoping for some discussions between the CNRP and the CPP government, and this may create space for that and decrease confrontation,” Mr. Panha said.  

“He promised that he’s coming back, so we will see how he explains this, but it may create space for negotiations.”

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