Cambodia frees opposition leader from house arrest

A Cambodian man walks past former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s house in Phnom Penh on Sunday.-AFP

The Cambodian government has reversed its ban on the return of self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, saying he can return as an ordinary person but will have to face due justice.

Published by pro-government outlet Fresh News, the court order stipulates that Kem Sokha, who was arrested in 2017 and accused of treason, remains under court supervision and forbids him from going overseas and conducting any political activities.

"For the sake of Cambodian people's safety and for the sake of Cambodia's stability, the level of security throughout the country needs to be on high alert and beefed up", said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Chhum Socheat.

The new court ruling, which cited health concerns, forbids the 66-year-old from leaving Cambodia or joining political activities.

However, it described Mr Rainsy as "convict Sam Rainsy" and said it would take action against anyone posing a threat to state security, an accusation it has already laid against him.

Malaysians ejected a corruption-plagued government that had ruled the country for over six decades in a historic election previous year, and voted in a more reform-minded alliance.

"Keep up the hope".

Rainsy told reporters after his arrival in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday that he has been invited to Malaysia's parliament Tuesday as part of a private visit, an indication that he'll miss a self-imposed deadline to return by Saturday, Cambodia's Independence Day.

"We must understand that as the leader of the democratic voice in the region, Malaysia must lead by example in advocating that everyone's rights be respected". "Democracy will prevail in Cambodia".

Rainsy, who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions he says are politically motivated, had promised a dramatic return.

"Arrests based on exercising the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, through political discourse and commenting on public affairs are not permitted", Smith said.

"I want to go back to my home country", he said, while declining to say how he plans to do so. He had called on Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand to join him during his planned crossing of the border from Thailand to Cambodia.

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Sar Kheng, the interior minister and deputy prime minister, announced the shift in the government's stand on his Facebook page on Saturday. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha earlier said he would be barred from entering.

Saory Pon called on the government to drop all charges against Kem Sokha and acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy, as well as against all other opposition supporters who had been arrested for their political activism, and to lift the ban on 118 opposition members to allow them to return to politics.

The celebration took place under tight security in the capital, Phnom Penh, with King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen looking on.

Speaking to RFA, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhai Eang said that the statements from Sok Ey San and Cambodia's mission in Geneva suggested that the CPP has no intention of initiating dialogue with the opposition, as urged by the US and United Nations, but he said that the CNRP will not abandon its goals.

In an email to RFA, an embassy spokesperson said that the U.S.is "deeply concerned" by expanding arrests, harassment, and intimidation of members of the CNRP, and by efforts to thwart the return of citizens seeking peaceful participation in the country's political process-actions they labeled "an escalation in the suppression of the political opposition".

He said it was fine if the Cambodian politicians had wanted to meet Malaysian leaders during their time here.

Rainsy flew into Malaysia on Saturday.

"We follow the SOP and did not comply with what was requested by the Cambodian (government) because we make the decision whether to send people back, allow them in and others following our own calculations, " he said.

Kem Sokha was accused of plotting with foreigners to oust Hun Sen - a charge he dismissed as nonsense. "More governments in ASEAN need to emulate Malaysia if the bloc is ever going to rid itself of its reputation as a rights abusing club of recalcitrant dictators".

Mr Rainsy, a founder of the CNRP, has been an opponent of Hun Sen since the 1990s, when Cambodia held its first elections after the devastating era of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

The Trump administration, also on Friday, condemned the recent arrests and reminded Malaysia of its obligations under global law barring the return of people to face torture.

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