The banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has appealed to 1.5 million migrant workers to walk across the Thai border into Cambodia next month alongside the party’s senior leaders and 16 EU members of parliament.
The CNRP’s exiled acting leader, Sam Rainsy, and other senior members announced in August that they would attempt to return to the country on Nov. 9, in what the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen views an attempted coup d’état.
“We have appealed to the people and in particular to the Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand — close to 1.5 million to walk across the border with us,” CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said in an email on Friday, including an invitation to journalists to join the march too.
“16 Members of the EU parliament have signed up to join us that day,” Sochua said. “As we might face arrest or more serious risks, we need the world to see it and to act timely. We invite you to join us,” she added.
Hun Sen on Oct. 7 ordered troops to be deployed in anticipation of Rainsy’s attempt to return, and said anyone showing support would be immediately arrested.
Since the announcement of the return, Cambodian authorities have charged more than 50 former CNRP members and jailed 31 others, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
“The dozens of politically motivated arrests over the past three months demonstrate that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has no intention of lifting the heavy-handed repression that has darkened Cambodia in recent years,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Foreign governments and donors should loudly call for an end to this wave of arrests and press Cambodia to immediately and unconditionally release all those wrongfully detained for criticizing the government,” Robertson said.
In the email invitation, the CNRP said the return would be a “unique opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation, and for transformation of Cambodia into an example of freedom, democracy and respect of Human Rights.”
It would be a mission of “peace and reconciliation, prosperity and dignity, unity and strength,” the email said.
A total of nine CNRP leaders living in exile were charged in September over the alleged coup plots and their photos posted at Cambodian border crossings.
About 300 formerly elected local councilors have fled the country, and close to 200 party activists have been questioned by police, according to the CNRP.
Sok Eysan, a spokesman from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), called Rainsy and the CNRP “rebels” who will bring only deaths to their own members.
“Which entrance that is mine-free will they enter?” Eysan asked, referring to the landmines placed near the Thai border in the 1980s and 90s amid fighting with the remnants of the Khmer Rouge.
“In fact, the rebels will lead to mass deaths along the border,” he said. “If anyone wants to step on the landmines and wants to be handcuffed, go to the Thai border, it is more than welcome.”
Eysan called the CNRP’s plan to march on foot across the border a lie and an insult to the Cambodian people.
“If they choose to enter, by whichever entrance, they will be handcuffed,” he said. “They can’t escape. The rebels are not stealthy and can’t go underground.”