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International relations

Thailand bans Cambodian opposition leader from transiting

Prime Minister Prayut refuses request from Sam Rainsy citing 'principle of noninterference'

Cambodian Army soldiers gather for a drill in front of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.   © AP

BANGKOK (Kyodo) -- Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan O-cha said Wednesday that his government will not allow Cambodia's banned opposition party leader Sam Rainsy to return to his country from self-exile abroad via Thailand.

"I have issued instructions over this matter. He will not be allowed to enter (Thailand)," Prayut told reporters, a day after Sam Rainsy sent him a letter requesting permission to transit the country while returning to Cambodia where he faces arrest upon arrival.

In explaining his decision, Prayut said, "We will follow the ASEAN principle of noninterference. We will not interfere in another country and will not allow an anti-government group to use Thailand for its movement."

He was referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which both countries are members.

Sam Rainsy, acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said in a formal letter to Prayut, that he and other party members plan to fly to Bangkok on Friday on a Thai Airways flight and to enter into Cambodia the following day via Aranyaprathet, adjacent to the Cambodian border town of Poipet.

"I have no choice but to do so in the face of the treatment that many of my party's supporters have endured," he said in the letter dated Oct. 31, adding, "My return is intended as a peaceful even which will provide an opportunity for political reconciliation and progress for all Cambodians."

Sam Rainsy has been in self-exile abroad since 2015 and faces a host of charges relating to defamation, disinformation, falsifying documents and insults to the king.

On Sept. 24, he used social media to appeal to the Cambodian armed forces to support the people in overthrowing Prime Minister Hun Sen on Nov. 9, the date of his scheduled return that coincides with independence day.

"Toppling the illegal Hun Sen regime is a legal and legitimate act because Hun Sen is an usurper who has stolen power from the people through a fake election in 2018," the appeal stated.

A Cambodian court subsequently charged Sam Rainsy and other party figures with plotting a coup.

Cambodian police and soldiers have already been deployed at major crossing points with Thailand, including airports, over the past few days to prevent the banned politicians' return or arrest them if they do, while airlines have been warned not to allow them to board inbound planes.

Phay Siphan, chief Cambodian government spokesman, said Tuesday that the government is "just enforcing the rule of law against those who want to stage a "coup" and destroy the country's peace and stability.

The blacklisted individuals are among 118 opposition figures who were banned from politics for five years ahead of the July 2018 election as part of the Supreme Court decision to dissolve the party over an alleged plot to topple the government.

Among them is party president Kem Sokha who is under house arrest in Phnom Penh, having been charged with treason in September 2017.

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