Former CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua said the Cambodian government’s decision to block her recent return to Cambodia could result in further financial sanctions for the country, similar to the partial revocation of the “Everything But Arms” trade preferences.
Mu Sochua and some of her colleagues from the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party made a second attempt to return to Cambodia over the weekend. They wanted to attend a massive trial against former party activists and members.
The Cambodian government did not grant them visas and international airlines did not allow them to board flights last week.
Sochua addressed party supporters in a Facebook live stream Monday night, where she said the government was at fault for denying their entry to the country.
“Hun Sen dare not allow us to enter [Cambodia] because there is only baseless evidence with regards to the accusations against us,” she said.
Sochua was at the Los Angeles International Airport in the United States last week attempting to board a flight that would bring her to Phnom Penh. In a Facebook Live broadcast, airline officials told Sochua that she could not get on the flight because she did not have a visa.
The Cambodian government had revoked the former CNRP leader’s Cambodian passport in 2019 and, as per new COVID-19 requirements, all visitors, or those using foreign passports, need a visa before arrival.
Sochua and 136 former CNRP officials and supporters face conspiracy and incitement charges for supporting another failed attempt to return by former party president Sam Rainsy in 2019. Rainsy was prevented from entering the country in 2019 when the government imposed a travel ban on him and instructed airlines to prevent him from boarding any flight to Cambodia.
The government at the time also revoked several passports belonging to senior CNRP leaders overseas. Sochua and her colleagues, who are dual citizens, attempted to get visas on their foreign passports.
Sochua said the international community was watching the Cambodian government’s decision to deny visas to senior to party leaders and it could result in economic repercussions.
“The [E.U.] will withdraw more of the EBA this year,” Sochua said, referring to the “Everything But Arms” tariff- and quota-free trade preferences to the European Union.
Senior leaders of the CNRP face multiple charges and trial hearings in Cambodian courts, including the charge of inciting the military to rebel against the government. A trial hearing is scheduled on Friday to look into that charge.
Last week, Cambodian courts started one of two trials scheduled against
137 CNRP former members and supporters, where prosecutors alleged that there was a plan to gather people for the 2019 return of Sam Rainsy to “attack” the government.
Justice Ministry Spokesperson Chin Malin dismissed Sochua’s attempt to return as a fundraising effort. He alleged the multiple attempts to return to Cambodia was only meant to incite party supporters to disrupt social order.
“[T]hey have the intention to build the hopes of their activists by provoking them to disturb social security in Cambodia. As a result, some have been punished for committing unlawful activities,” Malin said.
Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said CNRP leaders attempting to come back to the country was a “political campaign” to show domestic and international stakeholders that the government was denying their requests.
“It is clearly known that their plan to return is impossible because the government has not reinstated their passports and visa-K,” he said. Visa-K is for people of Cambodian descent who hold a foreign passport.
Em Sovannara, a political analyst, said the ruling CPP would unlikely change its strategy to deny entry to former CNRP leaders overseas while continuing to arrest those who support the outlawed party.
“The ruling CPP has a mechanism to maintain their influence and power; to make people scared and to intimidate them and break up the opposition party’s supporters,” he said.