Fri, Nov 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Cambodian opposition leader detained

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR and PHNOM PENH

Former Cambodian minister of women and veterans’ affairs Mu Sochua speaks at a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

Malaysia has detained former Cambodian minister of women and veterans’ affairs Mu Sochua, rights groups said yesterday, after Phnom Penh sought her arrest on grounds that she and other self-exiled members of the banned opposition were plotting a coup in trying to return home.

The detention came as Sam Rainsy, the founder of the opposition party, prepared to fly from Paris to Bangkok, vowing to return to Cambodia tomorrow to lead demonstrations against the one-party rule of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

It was unclear if any of the opposition figures abroad would reach Cambodia.

Sam Rainsy yesterday was prevented from checking in for a Paris-to-Bangkok flight. He said that Thai Airways had been asked to refuse to allow him to board, but he would not be deterred from trying again.

Malaysia earlier this week also detained two other opposition leaders who were trying to fly to Thailand.

A dual US-Cambodia citizen, Mu Sochua, 65, is vice president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and one of the highest-profile opposition leaders detained in Hun Sen’s efforts to prevent their return.

Thailand had denied her entry.

She held a news conference in Indonesia on Wednesday to denounce a crackdown by Cambodian authorities, who have arrested dozens of opposition activists at home and deployed troops along the border ahead of their planned return.

“What do they fear?” she asked. “They totally fear the determination of the people of Cambodia, who are responding positively to our appeal, which is that together we will build a better Cambodia.”

Mu Sochua later flew to Malaysia, only to be detained.

She was being held at the airport in its capital, Malaysian Human Rights Commission official Jerald Joseph said.

Joseph said he had spoken with Mu Sochua, who had been told she would not be deported to Cambodia. It was not immediately clear where authorities would send her.

The Malaysian Immigration Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mu Sochua fled Cambodia in 2017 under threat of arrest amid a mass crackdown on the opposition.

The party’s leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested on treason charges and remains under house arrest. The Cambodian Supreme Court later dissolved the CNRP.

Mu Sochua’s news conference in the Indonesian capital was interrupted by the Cambodian ambassador, who urged that she should not be given a forum.

The Cambodian embassy asked Indonesia, as a fellow member of ASEAN, to detain her.

The embassy sought her deportation to Cambodia “in the true spirit of ASEAN,” it said in a statement, adding that similar requests had been made to neighboring nations.

Instead, Mu Sochua flew to Malaysia, where she said she knew she could also be arrested.

“They will follow me, they will follow us, all the way,” Mu Sochua said.

She has been charged in a plot to topple the government, Cambodian National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said.

“There is an arrest warrant for her, we really want her, but we don’t know what is Malaysia’s position,” he said.

Mu Sochua’s detention in Malaysia is unacceptable, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

“She’s done nothing wrong, and should be immediately released and allowed to undertake the consultations she planned with the Malaysia government and civil society groups,” Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said.

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