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Former Opposition Leader Defends Political Movement Against ‘Terrorist’ Label

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2015, file photo, Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), waves from a car upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as hundreds of cheering supporters greeted him on his return from a trip abroad. The head of Cambodia's opposition party has announced his resignation from the group after the country's long-serving prime minister announced plans for a law that could lead to the party's dissolution. Rainsy announced his resignation Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, in a letter to his Cambodia National Rescue Party. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sam Rainsy said the CNRM was formed to peacefully oppose the CPP in Cambodia.

The former head of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, Sam Rainsy, has defended his creation of a new political movement that has been labeled as a terrorist organization by senior officials.

In a video posted on his Facebook page on Saturday, Rainsy said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s description of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement as a terrorist group showed he was concerned that it could become a popular alternative to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“Since we have created the movement, he was really worried and started talking nonsense. But it was funny. I posted on my page yesterday telling Hun Sen to stop getting crazy,” Rainsy said.

He defended the group, saying, “If I was a terrorist, I wouldn’t be living in France peacefully. Why would I have so many supporters? Why would I have meetings at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with others? They would arrest me as a terrorist and deport me.”

Rainsy has been living in exile in France since 2015 after the government said it would enforce a years-old prison sentence against him for defamation, which would have seen him jailed for two years.

The former CNRP president created the CNRM in January to lobby for the release of Kem Sokha, his successor to the party’s presidency, who has been jailed in Cambodia and is awaiting trial for treason.

Rainsy said the CNRM was formed to peacefully oppose the CPP in Cambodia, however, Sokha and other members of the CNRP have publicly distanced themselves from the group.

Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman, said Rainsy was a “criminal” who had created an illegal group “to incite citizens to go against the Royal Government. They are rebels.”

The CNRP was created in 2012 by a joining of Sokha’s Human Rights Party and Rainsy’s Sam Rainsy Party. The party won a large minority of seats at the 2013 election. It was dissolved late last year by the Supreme Court in a case filed by the government.

Defense Minister Tea Banh, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Sao Sokha, head of the military police, have also called the CNRM a terrorist group and said they will hunt down its members in Cambodia.