Follow VOA Khmer's live blog: Cambodia's Opposition Returns
PHNOM PENH -- Ngoeum Keatha’s family heaved a sigh of relief in their Sihanoukville home after she and fellow opposition youth activist Heng Seangleng were released by Malaysian immigration officials after being detained in Kuala Lumpur.
The family is hesitant to speak about the incident and are worried it could affect Ngoeum Keatha or the family. Malaysian authorities also detained opposition leader Mu Sochua, who was making her way to Thailand to meet Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Sam Rainsy, after which they planned to return to Cambodia via a border crossing.
The opposition has planned to return to Cambodia on November 9 and start a people’s movement to remove Prime Minister Hun Sen from office.
After being detained Wednesday night, Mu Sochua and two activists were released Thursday evening, though it was unclear if Mu Sochua would be allowed to travel to Bangkok or even fly to Cambodia.
Sam Rainsy was also expected to fly from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday but said he was denied from boarding the flight because his ticket was invalid. Prior to the departure, he was confident he would be allowed to travel or else be able to find an alternative travel plan.
“Why can’t I reach Cambodia? There is still a long way to go. If this solution doesn’t work, I will find another,” he said.
The Hun Sen government has leaned on its ASEAN neighbors to not allow Sam Rainsy and his CNRP colleagues from entering Cambodia. The government has allegedly banned airlines from letting them board flights to Cambodia, shutdown all land checkpoints, barring a few major routes, and reinforced these border posts with heavy security presence.
As November 9 deadline looms, experts are split on whether Sam Rainsy’s attempts to enter the country will be considered legitimate. The opposition leader has faced criticism in the past for announcing a return but not following through.
If Rainsy did not return to Cambodia on November 9, it certainly would deal a heavy blow to the morale of CNRP supporters, said Astrid Norén-Nilsson, author of Cambodia's Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy.
“Rainsy will be able to point to how his plan was thwarted by the Thai authorities, in light of which I don't think his supporters would hold him to his previous promises,” Norén-Nilsson told VOA Khmer in an email.
Ou Virak, head of Future Forum public policy think tank, contends that Rainsy is attempting to elevate political tensions ahead of a European Commission report on Cambodia’s human rights situation. A negative outcome of the report could be a suspension of the ‘Everything But Arms’ trade preferences. But if Rainsy were serious, he could find an alternative route into Cambodia.
“I think he already foresees that no one is going to allow him into their countries,” said Virak. “[I]f he wants to enter Cambodia, by air, he could fly from Japan or South Korea because there is a direct flight from those countries.”
Political commentator Lao Mong Hay said the Cambodian people, especially opposition supporters would find merit in Sam Rainsy’s attempted return, given that he has disappointed them in the past.
“We have to look at the reality, and the reality is that [Rainsy] announced that he will come, he is coming.” Monghai adding that the government was making it hard for Rainsy to return by threats and diplomatic deals.