Hun Sen critic holds out hope for protests
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Hun Sen critic holds out hope for protests

Mu Sochua says she and Sam Rainsy will keep attempting to enter their homeland

Mu Sochua, deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), speaks after a news conference in Jakarta on Wednesday, before her departure for Kuala Lumpur. (Reuters Photo)
Mu Sochua, deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), speaks after a news conference in Jakarta on Wednesday, before her departure for Kuala Lumpur. (Reuters Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: The deputy chief of Cambodia’s banned opposition party has called on her compatriots to take to the streets on Saturday, the country’s independence day, if they want to see an end to the more than three decades of rule by the same strongman.

“If you have 10,000, 100,000, have half a million people on the streets, then the time for change would strike. It could happen next week, it could happen on Nov 9,” Mu Sochua told Kyodo News in an interview on Friday in Kuala Lumpur.

“We are telling the people, don’t live in fear,” she said, adding that it is Prime Minister Hun Sen who is in fact “very vulnerable”.

She spoke a day after being released from detention by Malaysian immigration authorities, who had taken her into custody on her arrival from Indonesia on Wednesday.

Mu Sochua and Sam Rainsy, the acting leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), have been attempting to return home from self-exile on Saturday to lead the anti-government movement.

“We cannot continue to be outside. The struggle is inside [the country] I do not want to continue to have to go to Washington, to Brussels [to plead for the opposition’s cause]. We have to be inside,” said Mu Sochua, who resides in the United States.

The former three-term member of parliament until 2013 said she was in charge of preparations for the Saturday event, but that the plan appears to have been thwarted, with Hun Sen now retaliating through diplomatic channels with neighbouring countries.

Mu Sochua is among nine CNRP leaders who face charges for allegedly plotting a coup in connection with Sam Rainsy’s online appeal in September to the armed forces to support the people in overthrowing Hun Sen on Nov 9.

Sam Rainsy, who currently lives in France, was refused permission to board a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday, while Mu Sochua was briefly detained at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Upon her release, she was only allowed to remain in Malaysia until next Tuesday.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Wednesday he would not allow Sam Rainsy and other CNRP members living abroad to enter Thailand, from where they planned to cross over by land into Cambodia on Saturday.

Yet Mu Sochua is undeterred and remains optimistic they will find a way into the country somehow.

“He (Sam Rainsy) will try (again). He is still right now trying to see where in Asean he can come,” she said. “We all need to be as close as possible to Cambodia. If we cannot be in Thailand today, maybe we can be in Thailand tomorrow. We have to keep our hopes up.”

When asked if she is ready to face the consequences of entering Cambodia, she replied, “We are paying a high price but it’s worth paying. Worth being detained, worth being arrested and even worth being killed … because we cannot let Hun Sen take Cambodia as his own country.”

The country’s economy has been ruined by rampant corruption, she said, adding that locals are forced to head abroad to earn a living, usually to neighboring Thailand, where they often ended up being exploited and sometimes working in slave-like conditions.

“That is why we should give the people a chance to overcome their fear. Our message to them is that democracy is built by each and every one of us but democracy can be destroyed by just one man,” Mu Sochua said.

“So if you want to continue to see your children go to Thailand to seek work, lose their lives in a farm in Thailand, disappear on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Siam, then don’t come out on Nov 9,” she said.

“But if you think enough is enough, and there is hope for your son or your daughter, then Nov 9 is for all of us to come up and rally.”

She also appealed to Asean to take a more critical stand against Hun Sen and expressed disappointment that none of the bloc’s nine other members called out Cambodia for its “deeply flawed” 2018 election.

Prior to its court-ordered dissolution in November 2017, the CNRP was the sole opposition party in the National Assembly, with 55 seats compared with 68 held by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Mu Sochua fled her home country just before the court decision, having gotten word that she would be arrested.

The removal of the CNRP ahead of the July 2018 election enabled Hun Sen’s party to win all 125 seats and extend his 33-year rule for another five years.

The opposition party’s lawmakers were also banned from politics for five years.

“Which (Asean) country spoke up (about the election)?” Mu Sochua asked rhetorically.

But Asean has a long-standing non-interference policy.

Commenting Thursday on her brief detention, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir said his government “wanted to deport her” but was “trying to find any country that can take her”.

“We do not want to be at odds with other governments because this is not our affairs,” Mahathir said, while urging foreign opposition movements not “to use Malaysia as a base for their struggles in other countries.”

Asked where she plans to go next Tuesday, Mu Sochua was non-committal, merely saying it would not be a country in Southeast Asia.

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