Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday staked his position as head of the Cambodian government on a promise to arrest opposition leader Sam Rainsy within 24 hours of his planned return to Cambodia in November.
The prime minister was responding to Sam Rainsy who on Friday challenged Hun Sen to step down as head of the government if he returned to Cambodia on November 9, 2019. Sam Rainsy, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2015, said he and other senior Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders will return to Cambodia on November 9, the country’s Independence Day.
Hun Sen told VOA Khmer, via WhatsApp messages, that Sam Rainsy was making a “ridiculous” wager and that the opposition leader would be arrested within 24 hours of his purported return.
“If I can’t arrest you, I will decide to step down. Can you now say if you dare to [come back] or not?” Hun Sen said.
In the Facebook post, Sam Rainsy also claimed that he was willing to be arrested if the size of the crowd to welcome him was less than 1 million people. But if it was more than a million, Hun Sen would have to step down, Sam Rainsy added.
“But if the number of my supporters reaches or exceeds one million on that day…then Hun Sen must immediately step down out of respect for the will of the people,” Sam Rainsy posted on his Facebook page.
Hun Sen in response said local authorities would arrest Sam Rainsy if he was “brave” enough to enter the country, regardless of how many people met him upon arrival.
“But whether you dare [to come] or dare not to, it’s not important. The authorities are ready to arrest you and detain you in prison,” Hun Sen said by digital message.
Sam Rainsy’s announcement to return to Cambodia comes amid a crucial review by the European Union of human rights violations in the country that could result in the suspension of the “Everything But Arms” preferential trade privileges. The review and investigation period ended on August 12, and a final decision is expected later this year.
An arrest warrant was issued in March against Sam Rainsy and seven of his CNRP colleagues for alleged “plotting and incitement” to commit crimes. Sam Rainsy also faces a number of criminal convictions, ongoing court cases and another arrest warrant linked to an old defamation that resulted in him going into exile.
Friday’s wager followed a similar bet made by a group of analysts, called Ang Prok Prach, who last week promised to pay Sam Rainsy $1 million if he returned to Cambodia. Hun Sen agreed to stand witness to the wager, claiming that analysts would have to visit Sam Rainsy in prison to pay him the money.