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Facing Jail, Former Opposition Leader Vows to Return to Cambodia Ahead of Election

Opposition leader of Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy, center, delivers a speech next to his Deputy President Kem Sokha, right, during a gathering to mark Human Rights Day, in front of National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith

Sam Rainsy announced his return via his Facebook page, saying “I will return to Cambodia in 2018."

The former president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy has said he will return from self-imposed exile ahead of next year’s general election.

Rainsy faces prison if he returns after being convicted several years ago over a defamation case brought by the then-foreign minister, Hor Namhong, who he alleged was responsible for killings at a Khmer Rouge prison.

Rainsy met with party officials in Hong Kong this week, later announcing his return via his Facebook page. “I will return to Cambodia in 2018. [Prime Minister] Hun Sen is not eternal,” he wrote.

The post did not mention a date of return or how he would travel to Cambodia. Rainsy could not be reached for comment.

Eng Chhay Eang, a CNRP vice president, declined to comment further on Rainsy’s plans to return to Cambodia. “We came here [to Hong Kong] as individuals and there was no [formal] meeting. We just came here to see him and listen to his ideas.”

Last year, the law governing political parties was amended to prevent politicians with criminal records from leading parties, leading to Rainsy’s resignation from the CNRP ahead of local elections. On Monday, parliament passed more amendments to the law that will ban parties from associating with them, including using their speeches and social media posts to promote campaigns.

Hun Sen has previously said he would cut off his hand if he signed an order allowing Rainsy to return to Cambodia after he was banned from returning to the country, but later lifted the ban on airlines allowing Rainsy to board flights to Cambodia.

Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, confirmed that Rainsy would face imprisonment if he returned to the country. “No-one will stop him from returning to his home country... the police will be waiting for him at the airport stairs,” he said.