Cambodian opposition leader’s brief visit to Malaysia sets off PM Hun Sen

RFA Khmer and BenarNews staff
Cambodian opposition leader’s brief visit to Malaysia sets off PM Hun Sen Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy speaks during a press freedom event at the Gran Melia Hotel in Jakarta, May 19, 2023.

A visit to Malaysia this week by Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has strained ties between the two countries.

Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in Paris, arrived in Kuala Lumpur with his wife on Monday for a two-day private visit, Malaysian Parliamentarian Wong Chen said. 

It included a one-hour meeting with three non-executive members of Parliament who are interested in human rights and free and fair elections, but not a visit with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, officials said.

The visit angered Hun Sen, Anwar’s Cambodian counterpart and the longtime strongman in Phnom Penh.

Sam Rainsy is one of Hun Sen’s most prominent critics and rivals. He was head of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, but fled to France in 2015 to avoid a series of charges that his supporters say are politically motivated.

“Anwar Ibrahim told me clearly that he wouldn’t allow Sam Rainsy to visit, and I told him that if he allows Sam Rainsy, the two governments can’t work together,” Hun Sen said at a bridge inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

A pro-Cambodian government website said Sam Rainsy was kicked out of the country – but Malaysia-based CNRP activist Morn Phalla said that wasn’t true.

Wong said that Sam Rainsy made the stopover in Malaysia’s capital on his way back to France from Indonesia and Australia.

“We have been close friends for almost six years,” the Malaysian MP said. “Originally, I had no intention of posting the above as it was a private visit. However, since the matter has garnered some media attention, I hope the above clarifies what actually transpired.”

Malaysia’s foreign ministry said Anwar wasn’t aware of Sam Rainsy’s recent trip, and that the two men did not meet.

Malaysian Parliamentarian Wong Chen (center) poses with Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy and his wife, Tioulong Saumura, during their recent visit to the country. [Wong Chen/Facebook]

Hun Sen also threatened to attack Sam Rainsy with a rocket launcher if he led workers from Thailand into Cambodia.

“Sam Rainsy boasted that he stepped on Malaysian soil, and now he’s boasting about going to Thailand,” Hun Sen said on Wednesday. 

Last week, Sam Rainsy told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that if a new pro-democracy Thai government is formed, he would look into traveling to Cambodia through Thailand. RFA is a news service affiliated with BenarNews.  

“The Thai government can’t allow you – the non-interference internal policy,” Hun Sen said, referring to ASEAN’s principle of non-interference between its member nations. “If you cross the border from Thailand … I will shoot you. You don’t want to create chaos.” 

Sok Ey San, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, told RFA that he did not  believe that Sam Rainsy would dare to return to the country. He also said he didn’t believe that many people would welcome Sam Rainsy either.

“Why doesn’t he come if people are welcoming him?” he said. “He is conducting political propaganda for his political business.”

Muzliza Mustafa for BenarNews contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur.


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