PHNOM PENH —
The vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party will return to Cambodia on Tuesday, along with two lawmakers who were brutally beaten outside the National Assembly last month.
Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha is returning following meetings in Manila last week with party president Sam Rainsy, who remains abroad to avoid an arrest warrant he says is politically motivated.
Rescue Party officials say they met to discuss political strategy in the face of ongoing political strife with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha appealed to the party’s supporters via Facebook to remain calm and seek peaceful means to change the country.
“Despite a number of recent events, including the political situation, our position and goals remain the same,” Sam Rainsy said in a video on Facebook. “Our motivation and our commitment are the same. We want to have change through a peaceful election. Our position is a peaceful stance, with dignity, to lead Cambodia to prosperity.”
Supporters need not worry about the party’s position, he said, as its leaders will establish new strategies to compete with the CPP in upcoming elections.
In the same video, Kem Sokha told supporters the Rescue Party is working on short, medium and long-term goals to win local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018 and “to reform our nation to be a democracy of multilateral parties and to improve our people’s livelihoods.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed the message as a “greedy” bid for power. “There’s no surprise, nothing new,” he said, adding that the CPP was “keeping the door open” for talks with the Rescue Party. “Sam Rainsy’s case is a personal lawsuit between [Foreign Minister] Horn Namhong and Sam Rainsy,” he said.
The warrant stems from a criminal defamation suit brought by Hor Namhong in 2008, but opposition officials say it is being brought forward as part of an ongoing political campaign against them.
The warrant and the removal of Sam Rainsy from parliament by a National Assembly committee dominated by the CPP has been roundly criticized by the international community, including US officials, who say they fear the upcoming elections will not be free and fair.