Cambodia PM orders release of opposition members jailed for 'coup' bid

Cambodia PM orders release of opposition members jailed for 'coup' bid

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a celebrations marking the 66th anniversary of the c
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends celebrations marking the 66th anniversary of the country's independence from France, in central Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Nov 9, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Samrang Pring) 

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian leader Hun Sen ordered the release on Thursday (Nov 14) of dozens of opponents and activists that authorities accused of helping his arch-rival plot a coup.

The arrests were linked to attempts by opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy to return home from France, where he has lived since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions he says are politically motivated.

READ: Indonesia ordered Cambodia's Rainsy barred from flight: Malaysia Airlines

Hun Sen had sent out arrest warrants for Rainsy to neighbouring countries ahead of his planned homecoming of Nov 9.

The Cambodian strongman also beefed up security at the Thai border crossing, and his government has said they will regard Rainsy's return as a "coup attempt".

"The (coup) plot had ill will, but people did not join it," said Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, on Thursday.

He said more than 70 opposition activists would be released on bail "for the sake of national unity", adding that they had been cheated by Rainsy.

The announcement comes days after Cambodia lifted house arrest restrictions on Rainsy's political ally Kem Sokha, the co-founder of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

READ: Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrives in Malaysia

The dissolution of the CNRP paved the way for Hun Sen to sweep a widely criticised election last year, turning Cambodia into a one-party state.

As a result, the European Union started a review of a duty-free tariff scheme for the country's lucrative garment sector. Analysts say the possible removal of the deal is a rare weak spot for Hun Sen.

For now, it remains unclear how Rainsy can return to Cambodia without Hun Sen's say-so.

He had promised to come home on Saturday, Cambodia's independence day, but was blocked from a Thai Airways flight in Paris. 

He then flew to Malaysia instead, and on to Jakarta on Thursday morning.

Source: AFP/ad