Ou Chanrith, a former lawmaker for the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has rejected the “smear” that the announced return of party co-founder Sam Rainsy and other top leaders was merely an attempt to collect more money from supporters.
The former National Assembly member for Takeo province said the date of the CNRP leadership’s return to Cambodia this year had already been set.
The CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017 after the arrest of its president, Kem Sokha, on a charge of treason, with much of the party’s leadership moving into self-exile.
Chanrith was on Monday appointed spokesperson for a committee preparing their return, he said.
On Sunday, CNRP vice-president Mu Sochua announced they would come back in August or September.
Chanrith told The Post on Tuesday that the allegation that CNRP leaders abroad had collected money for their personal expenses was just a smear aimed at discrediting them.
“We have a budget management system. Those who want to see change [in Cambodia] contribute to the CNRP. If they believed we and Sam Rainsy would cheat them out of their money, they would not have helped us. They are not ignorant."
“This money is for the return of leaders and activists. It’s not to be used to buy plane tickets for Sam Rainy or me. We can afford that, but the return involves many people and so requires a lot of money,” he said.
The allegation came from those wishing to incite, he added.
Regarding the date of return, Chanrith said they had recently formed a committee and subcommittee tasked with the preparations. These were set to hold many meetings.
“We have already set the day and month of return, but we cannot reveal it to the public yet because we still have some technical issues that we need to work on further. We will have more meetings and will let the public know the date,” he said.
He said he expected CNRP supporters to welcome them on their return – an event that would be internationally observed.
“We are concerned about being arrested, but we need to return as was said in the statement to restore democracy and avoid further serious problems for Cambodia,” he said.
Chanrith explained that the date of their return could not have been fixed long before it actually happened as they had to wait for a favourable time and circumstances.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the CNRP leaders could return at any time.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he did not believe the CNRP leaders would return anytime soon.
He said they had only made such an announcement to make their supporters hopeful and collect more money from them.
“That is just to make their supporters not forget them. Now we see that they have set a date – as I heard, July 19 – but I don’t think they will return then. If they did return, they would face legal measures, especially the arrest warrants from the courts. These won’t be forgotten,” he said.
Collecting money from supporters did not prove their commitment to returning, he added.