Indonesia’s human-rights commission called on the government Thursday to take an active regional role in pushing for democracy in Cambodia, as the body’s chief met in Jakarta with exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who said he would stay in a country near his homeland while preparing for his long-awaited return.
Rainsy, who has been accused by Cambodian authorities of plotting a coup, arrived in Indonesia on Thursday from neighboring Malaysia, where he spent the past few days after arriving last weekend from his self-exile in France.
“Indonesia should speak out more on the issue of democracy in Cambodia at ASEAN and encourage Hun Sen to start a dialogue,” Achmad Taufan Damanik, chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), told BenarNews after meeting with Rainsy in Jakarta.
“ASEAN should not keep silent,” Taufan said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which traditionally refrains from making overt criticism of human rights records of its 10-member countries.
“Even though ASEAN members can’t interfere in domestic affairs of another member, at least there should be a dialogue on how not to use violent means,” he said.
After his meeting with Taufan, Rainsy spoke to reporters, praising Indonesia for respecting his rights and allowing him to enter the country.
“Indonesia is an example for ASEAN,” he said. “And we have a lot of admiration. We respect Indonesia because they show the way.”
Teuku Faizasyah, the spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, told BenarNews that the Cambodian opposition leader was welcome to stay as a tourist.
“As long as one doesn’t violate Indonesian laws, why not?” Teuku said. “During a holiday people can meet colleagues and friends. There’s nothing wrong with meeting friends.”
Separately on Thursday, Rainsy told Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online news service affiliated with BenarNews, that he held talks with three Indonesian opposition members of parliament and another legislator before meeting Taufan, the human-rights commission chief.
“They push for the respect for a universal human rights, especially human rights in Southeast Asia,” he said, referring to Komnas HAM. “Spiritually, they encouraged us to struggle for human rights and real democracy in Cambodia.”
Rainsy, the acting president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was blocked from boarding a flight on Wednesday from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta on the instruction of Indonesian authorities, according to a statement from the Malaysian Airlines.
Indonesian foreign ministry and immigration officials, however, denied any knowledge of an official ban.
Rainsy, 70, and other opposition leaders have been trying to re-enter Cambodia to lead what they describe as a restoration of democracy in their homeland.
Before he landed in Malaysia on Saturday, Rainsy attempted to get back to Cambodia through Thailand, but authorities thwarted his plans late last week when he was refused permission to board a Thai Airways plane in Paris.
Asked about his next step, Rainsy told BenarNews on Thursday: “It depends on the situation, I want to go back to Cambodia.”
“If the situation changed, I will go back to Cambodia immediately because the European Union is putting pressure on Cambodia,” he said.
It was not immediately clear if he was referring to a European Union’s confidential 70-page report warning Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government that it had not taken enough steps to prevent a loss of its special trade privileges, which could potentially deliver a major blow to the Cambodian economy.
The EU report, which was marked “sensitive” and accessed by RFA, also noted “further deterioration” of Cambodia’s human rights record since a review process was launched nine months ago.
Rainsy says he intends to stay near Cambodia
In a separate interview with RFA while he was Jakarta on Thursday, Rainsy also did not make clear his next destination, but merely said he would stay “near Cambodia.”
“So, it is faster when I need to go to Cambodia,” he said, without elaborating.
“I believe the situation in Cambodia is changing and changing fast within one month because the EU is putting out its condition very clear,” Rainsy said. “The political prisoners who have been arrested and detained unjustly in recent weeks and months will be all set free.”
Rainsy made the comments hours after Hun Sen, who had been facing an upsurge in international pressure over his human-rights record, said he had ordered judicial authorities to release more than 70 opposition activists arrested in recent weeks on accusations of plotting to overthrow the government.
“There are over 70 people, please hurry up work on this case so that these brothers can be released on bail,” Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 34 years, said in a speech in the southern province of Kampot.
The arrests occurred in the run-up to Rainsy’s announcement that he would return from exile in France to rally the opposition.
“The ones who don’t have court warrants and just feel scared, please come back,” Hun Sen said. “Nobody will touch you.”