The government on Thursday rejected a request by the leader of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), Sam Serey, to be allowed to form a legitimate political party and return to Cambodia to participate in politics.
A senior Ministry of Interior official said it would be “impossible” for Serey to form a party as he was a “prisoner who had never been in jail”.
Serey lives in Denmark after having been given political asylum in 2011. He formed a “government in exile” in 2016 after being sentenced to nine years in prison in 2014 for allegedly “plotting” to overthrow the government.
The comments came after Serey, who is accused by the government of being an “armed rebel leader”, said he would “halt” his “movement’s activities” and return to Cambodia if certain conditions were met, including the “release” of former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha.
A government official said the Ministry of Interior would consider such a request from other KNLF members who had not been found guilty of committing offences.
However, Serey, who has been labelled a “terrorist mastermind” by the government, said that none of his movement’s members could form a party apart from him.
“In the KNLF, no one can form a party except me. All the members put their confidence in my leadership. Therefore, only I can make the breakthrough in this political issue. The ministry should take this into consideration. No one can form a party except me,” he said.
‘A fleeing prisoner’
General Khieu Sopheak, a Ministry of Interior spokesman, told The Post on Thursday that he had heard of Serey’s request, but he said it would be “impossible” because the KNLF founder had been sentenced to a prison term and was required to undergo the punishment or receive a pardon first.
“He is a prisoner. How can he form a party? If he forms a party then it means that the court’s verdict has been opposed."
“The important thing is to make sure that the court’s verdict becomes invalid first . . . After being sentenced in absentia, he needs to undergo the punishment passed down or get a pardon to become an ordinary person first,” he said.
Sopheak said he found Serey’s request hard as he is a prisoner who has never been in jail. “He is a fleeing prisoner who refuses to undergo his punishment,” he said.
General Sopheak said the court had not banned Serey’s organisation and so the case was different from that of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP. He said that if it was another person, apart from Serey, who was making the request, the ministry would take it into consideration.
“As we say in Khmer, ‘one pot will fit with its cover’. Perhaps his organisation has not been banned yet. But the 118 CNRP officials whose party has been dissolved, they are outlawed,” he said.
He said Serey’s situation is different from Sourn Serey Ratha, the founder of Khmer People Power Movement, which was also labelled a “terrorist” group.
Serey Ratha received a royal pardon after being sentenced to seven years in prison for a Facebook post urging the overthrow of the government. He returned to the Kingdom and formed a political party.
“[Suorn Serey Ratha] got a pardon. He has cleaned himself up,” he said.
On Thursday, Serey said he noted that Prime Minister Hun Sen is now more positive towards finding a solution to strengthen political unity and has released prisoners.
“I can see that his political messages are good signs, and the Minister of Interior [Sar Kheng] is also starting to calm the situation, releasing political prisoners and widening the space for civil society in Cambodia."
“I believe there will be a solution which benefits Cambodian people in the near future, and all political groups will join the next free and fair elections,” he said.
Serey said he had not written a letter of appeal for intervention from Hun Sen because he expected the prime minister to be committed to “solving the political crisis and reconciling the nation”.