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Tags: AS | Malaysia | Cambodia

Malaysia Detains Cambodia Opposition Leader amid Return Plan

Malaysia Detains Cambodia Opposition Leader amid Return Plan

Thursday, 07 November 2019 05:40 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia doesn't want to be used as a base for political activists from the region, after the No. 2 official of a banned Cambodian opposition party was detained at the airport as she and other exiles planned a return to their homeland in a challenge to an autocratic leader.

Mahathir's stand mirrored that of Thailand, which this week also barred the Cambodian opposition officials from transiting through the country. They said they want to spark a popular movement to oust long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has clamped down on his opponents.

Cambodian officials have repeatedly warned that if the opposition leaders did make it back, they would immediately be arrested. Most if not all have convictions or charges pending against them, including inciting armed rebellion despite their avowedly nonviolent intentions.

"We don't want them to use Malaysia as a base for struggle in other countries," Mahathir told a news conference. "We are trying to find any country that can take her. We don't want to be at odds with other government because this is not our affair, it's their affair."

Mu Sochua, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was held by immigration officials upon landing at the Kuala Lumpur airport Wednesday night from Jakarta, said Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Her detention followed the arrest of two party youth activists in Malaysia late Monday.

Saifuddin earlier indicated she won't be deported back home despite a Cambodian request.

"We are not in the position to deport people and neither do we like doing that," he told reporters. "We are a pro-democracy government. We follow things very closely but at the same time, we cannot interfere with what happens in other countries."

The opposition politicians, led by party leader Sam Rainsy, have planned to return home on Saturday.

In Paris, where he lives in exile, Sam Rainsy said that Mu Sochua had traveled to Kuala Lumpur for an agreed meeting with Saifuddin. He described her arrest as strange and voiced confidence she would be released soon.

"It means that Hun Sen is very afraid and he is doing what he can to block our entry," he told The Associated Press. He spoke just before leaving to the airport for his planned flight to Bangkok despite Thailand's blockade, vowing not to be cowed.

"I am determined. I have been waiting for a long time ... I think this is the most favorable circumstances because the Cambodian people really want a change," he said. He said his party has to lead "this fight for freedom and I'm sure that there are many friends all over the world who will help us in our rightful battle."

Human Rights Watch slammed Mu Sochua's arrest as "absolutely ludicrous and unacceptable," and called for her release.

"Malaysia should stand up to Cambodia's bullying of its regional neighbors and refuse to do Phnom Penh's dirty work in cracking down against the CNRP exiles," said its Asia deputy director Phil Robertson.

The party was dissolved by court order in late 2017, allowing Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party to sweep a 2018 general election. Cambodian courts are widely considered to be under the influence of the government, which employs the law to harass its opponents.

Seng Mengbunrong, an aide to Mu Sochua, said the party is trying to seek intervention from Malaysia's foreign ministry and the United States. She has dual citizenship and holds a U.S. passport. U.S. Embassy officials couldn't be reached for comments immediately.

Hours before Mu Sochua's detention in Malaysia, the Cambodian Embassy in Indonesia called for her arrest after she gave a news conference in Jakarta. Cambodian Ambassador Hor Nambora interrupted that news conference to describe the opposition politicians as fugitives and criminals.

"We are risking our lives, we will go to Cambodia empty handed," Mu Sochua said. "Returning home for democracy in Cambodia, it's not a revolution, it's not a coup d'etat."

Ng reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press journalists Thomas Adamson, Nico Garriga and Catherine Gaschka in Paris contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia doesn't want to be used as a base for political activists from the region, after the No. 2 official of a banned Cambodian opposition party was detained at the airport as she and other exiles planned a return to their homeland in...
AS,Malaysia,Cambodia
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2019-40-07
Thursday, 07 November 2019 05:40 AM
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