Cambodian court orders arrest of opposition leader
Published 13/11/2015 | 11:11
A Cambodian court has ordered the arrest of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is locked in a bitter political fight with the country's prime minister.
It is not clear if Mr Rainsy will actually be arrested since he has parliamentary immunity due to his status as an MP.
He is currently on a trip to Japan and South Korea and is scheduled to return on November 16.
Mr Rainsy was ordered arrested in connection with a defamation and incitement case brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.
In a speech, Mr Rainsy had accused Mr Namhong of colluding with the Khmer Rouge while he was a prisoner of the radical group.
The Phnom Penh municipal court convicted Mr Rainsy and sentenced him to two years in jail. He appealed but lost in 2013.
The conviction was never enforced and he continued to live freely in Cambodia, serving as the leader of his party in parliament. A lawyer for Mr Namhong has now requested that the verdict be enforced, according to Friday's arrest warrant.
In issuing the warrant, the court ordered "all public forces to search for and arrest" Mr Rainsy.
The timing of the arrest warrant is certain to raise questions about a political motivation given that Mr Rainsy has been engaged in a war of words with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On Thursday, Hun Sen called Mr Rainsy the "son of a traitor" after the opposition leader said that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's electoral victory foreshadowed Hun Sen's downfall.
"I cannot keep calm because of this insult by the son of a traitor," Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page.
The Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted an opposition MP as saying the arrest warrant was an attempt to keep Mr Rainsy in exile and leave the opposition party leaderless ahead of 2017 village elections and 2018 national elections.
He questioned why the verdict was not enforced when Mr Rainsy first returned to Cambodia in 2013 after nearly five years in self-imposed exile.
Hun Sen has been in office for almost three decades. While Cambodia is formally democratic, the government is notorious for intimidating opponents. Hun Sen has warned of civil war if the opposition wins the next election, suggesting that his followers would not accept such a result.