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CNRP Leaders Vow to Return Next Month, Attend Trial Hearings

FILE PHOTO - Journalists wait in front of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headquarters during the party's meeting, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, May 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Senior CNRP leaders said they will return to Cambodia on January 4 in time to attend an “incitement” and “plotting” trial where they are the key defendants.

A statement from the dissolved party on Tuesday said Mu Sochua, former party deputy president, would lead party leaders and other members who are exiled to attend twin trials being held against 137 defendants. The trials are linked to Sam Rainsy’s unsuccessful return attempt in 2019.

Um Sam An, a former CNRP lawmaker living in the United States, said party activists and officials living in exile across the region, the United States, Australia, France, and other countries would attempt to return to Cambodia on January 4, 2021.

“The hearing will open in [January], so we will be on time,” Um Sam An said. “Therefore, we must attend the hearing which will be held by the remote-controlled courts of the Hun Sen regime.”

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court conducted a trial hearing against 137 CNRP party officials and supporters on November 26, where it combined four case files into two and delayed the hearing. The first of the two hearings will be held on January 14 next year and the other on March 4. The defendants have been charged with “incitement” and “plotting.”

Um Sam An admitted that there were some obstacles to returning back to Cambodia. The government had placed a travel ban on Sam Rainsy and some senior leaders, preventing neighboring countries from letting them board flights.

The government had also canceled at least 12 Cambodian passports belonging to senior party members.

“There may be a risk of arrest. However, if we do not take the risk, there is no change,” he said.

VOA Khmer could not contact Mu Sochua on Tuesday nor could it reach Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Kuy Kuong.

Phay Siphan, a Council of Ministers' spokesperson, said the exiled party leaders could still enter Cambodia and face the charges against them, but would not comment on whether the government would lift existing travel bans.

“Anyone who is [summoned] by the court must be brought to the court,” he said.

Cambodian People’s Party Senator Sok Eysan claimed exiled CNRP leaders were “cowards” and that this was not a genuine attempt to return to the country.

“I think the culture of this outlawed rebel group is that they are creating success in their own minds,” he said. “If they think they are successful, then their plan for whether to come or not does not have to exist in reality.”

Em Sovannara, a political sciences professor in Cambodia, said that even if the leaders were able to return to the country it would likely worsen the already-gloomy political situation.

“[If they] come to accept the charges or accept the detention it will show the international community about the political climate and the democratic space in Cambodia being narrowed down,” he said. “So, there would be quick intervention from the international community.”