PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia renewed calls on Monday for the arrest of veteran opposition chief Sam Rainsy as it faces the threat of sanctions from the European Union, its biggest garment export market worth billions of euros a year, over human rights concerns.
Sam Rainsy’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 and 118 CNRP members were banned from politics ahead of the 2018 general election.
Long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen won every seat in the July vote. The EU then warned that it would strip Cambodia of its “Everything but Arms” duty-free trading access.
Hun Sen this month threatened to retaliate against the opposition if the EU withdraws duty-free trading access.
Sam Rainsy has said he will return to Cambodia some time this year from France, where he has lived since fleeing the country in 2015 after a conviction for defamation.
Two arrest warrants for Sam Rainsy from 2015 were republished in messaging app Telegram for public officials on Monday, for defamation and using false public documents and incitement to cause social instability.
A spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) warned that a third party might kill Sam Rainsy and blame the government if he returns.
“If convict Sam Rainsy dares to enter Cambodia, there may be a third party shooting to kill convict Sam Rainsy and put the blame on the royal government of Cambodia,” Sok Eysan told Reuters.
Sam Rainsy said he wasn’t surprised by Hun Sen’s move. “He would do anything to deter me from coming back to Cambodia because he is afraid of the people rising up when I come back. But I will not be deterred,” he told Reuters.
He has said in the past that the convictions are politically motivated.
Cambodian businesses and unions urged the EU last week not to withdraw trade preferences, saying such a decision would pose serious economic damage and harm millions of workers and their families, especially rural women.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Catherine Evans