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Cambodian PM urges diaspora to return home

Hun Sen says former opposition supporters will not be prosecuted, calls such fears 'unfounded propaganda'

Customers look at roast pigs for sale at a market in preparation for the Lunar New Year celebrations in Phnom Penh on Jan. 21

Customers look at roast pigs for sale at a market in preparation for the Lunar New Year celebrations in Phnom Penh on Jan. 21. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 02, 2023 10:58 AM GMT

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on former supporters of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) to return home for the South East Asian Games and Khmer New Year, adding they will not be prosecuted.

According to the pro-government Fresh News, Hun Sen had been told former opposition supporters “did not dare to return home as they will be arrested upon standing on Cambodian soil.”

The Khmer New Year will be celebrated from April 14 to 16, followed by the South East Asian Games on May 5-17, and national elections to be held on July 23.

Hun Sen said fears among the diaspora that they would be arrested were unfounded and were based on propaganda spread by the CNRP, which was outlawed by the courts in late 2017.

“This is Cambodia, a country for all. You will not be arrested without an arrest warrant. Please return home. Stop believing in the propaganda,” he said during a meeting with high school students.

Hundreds of CNRP supporters have been rounded up and many jailed on charges ranging from incitement to plotting to overthrow the government, including opposition supporters and politicians living in exile who have been convicted and handed heavy sentences in absentia.

The Candlelight Party has since emerged from the remnants of the CNRP, but its senior leaders have faced defamation lawsuits and judicial seizure of their family homes.

Candlelight Party supreme advisor, Kong Korm, also announced in a letter on Feb. 2 that he would quit the party after Hun Sen decided not to proceed with a US$500,000 lawsuit.

He thanked Hun Sen for dropping the suit adding: "I would like to acknowledge and apologize to Samdech (Hun Sen) and the leaders of the Cambodian People's Party who feel that my past gestures and actions affected the honor and dignity as well as the peace of society.

“After examining the past and considering the new world order and the geopolitical context and Cambodian politics, which is paying attention to the next generation of politicians, I, Kong Korm, decided to end my role as the supreme advisor of the Candlelight Party from now on.”

However, controversial trade unionist and outspoken political activist, Rong Chhun, has announced his intention to enter politics with the Candlelight Party and run in the July parliamentary elections.

Rong Chhun was previously jailed for incitement to disturb social stability after he issued a statement claiming that Cambodia was ceding border territory to Vietnam, a potentially explosive issue in this country.

Meanwhile, another union leader, Chhim Sithar, who has led striking workers at the NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh and is currently in detention, has been named as one of 10 recipients of the Human Rights Defender Awards by the United States State Department.

“This prestigious award recognizes courageous individuals who show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating for the promotion and protection of universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the State Department said in a statement.


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