Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday lifted a travel ban on former opposition leader Sam Rainsy in place since October.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party said he was willing to go to prison for his cause, but stopped short of saying he would return ahead of next year’s general election.
Rainsy was already in self-imposed exile when the travel ban, which called on airlines to deny Rainsy access to air travel, was signed in October 2016.
Tek Reth Samrach, the official in Hun Sen’s cabinet who signed the order, could not be reached.
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said the party leadership saw Rainsy as a “coward” who would not risk serving time in prison by returning to the country.
Rainsy is wanted by the authorities over years-old defamation conviction and other charges for which he has yet to go to trial.
“Nobody treated him badly. If he hadn’t said wrong things, nobody would have taken action against him,” Eysan said.
He added that, unlike before the last general election, in 2013, when Rainsy was allowed to return to the Kingdom after receiving a royal pardon, the same actions would not be taken this time.
Yim Sovann, CNRP spokesman, welcomed the removal of the ban.
“We welcome this order because [Rainsy] is a Cambodian citizen. He has rights, power, and a duty to serve the country and people. So I think the order is a positive move,” he said.
He would not confirm whether Rainsy planned to return to Cambodia to face the charges against him.