‘Terrorist’ Group Seeks Political Party Status

A provincial court has charged him with treason. The government wants him arrested as soon as he steps foot inside the country. Prime Minister Hun Sen has branded his group a terrorist organization bent on the bloody overthrow of the government.

Now Sourn Serey Ratha, the self-exiled president of the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), wants to register his band of dissidents as a political party in Cambodia. The Interior Ministry says he has little chance.

Contacted by phone in Dallas, Texas, Mr. Serey Ratha said he wants to register the KPPM so that his activists in Cambodia can operate freely. He hopes to submit the necessary paperwork, including a list of founding members and 5,000 supporters, to the Interior Ministry by mid-May.

“I prepare documents to register a political party with the Ministry of Interior…because the government of Cambodia accuses my group and my supporters of [being a] terrorist movement,” he said. “But I want to be clear with the government that we are not a terrorist movement.”

Mr. Ratha said he had no interest in fielding candidates for public office any time soon, as he believes that a free and fair poll can happen only once Prime Minister Hun Sen has been ousted.

If registered, Mr. Ratha said his group would organize public forums across the country to educate Cambodians about their political rights, namely their right to abstain from voting. Three people were arrested in Banteay Meanchey province ahead of last year’s national elections for transporting T-shirts ordered by the KPPM with slogans urging Cambodians not to cast ballots in protest of a flawed electoral system. Along with Mr. Ratha, they have been charged with treason.

“We want the people to know the right to vote or not belongs to the people,” he said. “If the vote [is] still not free…we can encourage the people not to vote.”

General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Mr. Ratha’s hopes of having the KPPM registered as a political party were likely to be dashed.

“It’s not suitable for him to lead a party because he has the arrest warrant from the court, so how can he lead the party?” he said.

But Mr. Ratha’s lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, said an arrest warrant alone should not prevent the KPPM from registering as a political party.

He said the law lets the government deny someone the right to form a political party “only if you have a criminal record, but the court [did] not yet decide on his case.”

Mr. Sam Oeun said the Banteay Meanchey court finished its investigation into the T-shirt case about a month ago but had yet to set a trial date.

(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)

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