National Assembly President Chea Sim has indicated that the government will relax its travel ban on opposition parliamentarians. But it remained unclear Tuesday how relaxed that policy will be.
Oum Sarith, Chea Sim’s director of Cabinet, said Tuesday that Chea Sim told UN officials and Thai diplomats in separate meetings Monday and Tuesday that opposition parliamentarians would be allowed to travel.
The exception is opposition figure Sam Rainsy, who is free “only to travel to Siem Reap [Thursday] to meet with the King,” Oum Sarith said.
But Lakhan Mehrotra, the special representative here to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said Chea Sim’s statement was somewhat vague.
“He said that generally for members of parliament there is freedom of movement,” Mehrotra said Tuesday afternoon. “I cannot say how to interpret that.”
Mehrotra did say Chea Sim—also the CPP president—was clear in guaranteeing Sam Rainsy’s safety and protection from arrest in his Siem Reap trip.
All 53 opposition party members elected to the new Assembly as well as more than a dozen Funcinpec military and police generals are on a government travel-ban list.
Diplomats on Tuesday said the ban appears aimed to make sure parliamentarians-elect remain in Cambodia so they cannot boycott the formation of the new National Assembly while remaining outside country. Following factional fighting in July 1997, many parliamentarians fled Cambodia and blocked the convention of the law-making body.
One diplomat said the government might attempt to bring charges against new Assembly members who chose not to attend the opening session, tentatively slated for Sept 24.
A government source, however, said it was unlikely authorities would attempt to arrest those who boycott the Assemby’s opening session.
“To do so would be a public relations disaster,” he said, adding that he was confounded by thevery existence of the comprehensive travel-ban list.
In addition, a directive from National Police Director-General Hok Lundy indicates that immigration officials should seek the advice of their superiors if other top leaders of the opposition National United Front coalition of parties try to leave the country.
The controversy surfaced last week when Kem Sokha, secretary-general of the Son Sann Party, a NUF member, was prevented from leaving Cambodia.
Legal experts have said the mass travel ban is unconstitutional, and opposition party officials have condemned it.
Funcinpec spokesman Noranarith Ananda said Tuesday the ban was tantamount to declaring martial law. “If they’re not accused of an offense, they should be free to travel,” he said of opposition Assembly members.
Another Funcinpec official said late Tuesday afternoon that as far as she knew the government had guaranteed complete freedom of movement only to Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
“We’d like to see the official papers and ensure this is everybody and not just Ranariddh,” said Mu Sochua, a Funcinpec spokeswoman. “We won’t believe it until we see it.”
Khieu Sopheak, Ministry of Interior spokesman, said late Tuesday afternoon that he wasn’t aware of a lifting of the travel ban. “I have heard new instructions from the government,” he said.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the ban after a grenade attack on his Phnom Penh residence early last week. He also warned then that opposition leaders could be arrested.
(Additional reporting by Rachel Watson and Chris Decherd)