A U.S.-based Cambodian dissident labeled a terrorist by authorities and wanted for alleged incitement says he is in Cambodia and will stage mass demonstrations aimed at toppling the government if the opposition CNRP agrees to join the opening session of the National Assembly.
Sourn Serey Ratha, who lives in the U.S. and faces an arrest warrant here for promoting an Arab Spring-style overthrow of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, claimed to have entered Koh Kong province from Thailand on Monday and said he would stay until at least October to orchestrate his uprising.
Despite the government’s warnings about Mr. Serey Ratha and his group, the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), and Mr. Serey Ratha’s own provocative talk, rights groups, lawyers and observers say the movement poses no credible threat to the state. They also accuse the government of using a harmless group to scare and intimidate opposition supporters and tarnish the opposition’s reputation by making links between the CNRP and KPPM.
Rights groups have also condemned the government for arresting seven people since early July on suspicion of working for the KPPM, citing no evidence of wrongdoing.
Contacted by email, Mr. Serey Ratha claimed that he met with KPPM activists in Koh Kong on Monday, would move on to an unspecified neighboring province today and head to Preah Vihear or Oddar Meanchey provinces next week.
“Over there the key activists of KPPM [are] waiting for me to mentor them and encourage them to network in their resident province for conducting [the] demonstration,” he said. “The mass demonstration must be soon to rise up [while] I am staying here.”
Mr. Serey Ratha’s visit comes amid a tense political standoff between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP, who have both claimed victory in last month’s national election and have thus far failed to agree on the terms of an investigation into widespread reports of election-day irregularities.
Though the CNRP has vowed not to join the first meeting of the National Assembly—constitutionally mandated to occur by September 28—unless an independent investigation is agreed to, Mr. Serey Ratha said he believed the CNRP would cave.
If that were to happen, he said, “my key activists in 10 provinces out of 24 provinces are ready [to lead] supporters to rise up at any time when I do order.”
Though Mr. Serey Ratha has said that he hoped to inspire more than 200,000 people across Cambodia to join his demonstrations, his group has never organized a single rally anywhere in the country.
Authorities who have vowed to arrest Mr. Serey Ratha if he were to return said Monday they did not believe he was here or had no knowledge of his presence.
“I don’t think he is in Cambodia. I think he’s afraid to come,” said Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the national police.
Sam Khit Ve, Koh Kong provincial police chief, said he had no reports either of Mr. Serey Ratha’s presence.
“I have not seen Mr. Serey Ratha in Koh Kong and I am not clear about him or his group staying here,” he said.