Malaysia detains Cambodian opposition figure

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) –


A senior Cambodian opposition figure was detained in Malaysia as she tried to fly home for the planned return of her exiled party leader, a rights group said Thursday, in another win for strongman Hun Sen.

Members of the opposition are trying to get back to Cambodia to support their leader, Sam Rainsy, who wants to make a dramatic end to his exile this weekend to mark Cambodian Independence Day.

However Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, has vowed not to allow Rainsy to return, and sought support from regional neighbours to thwart the opposition's plans.

Mu Sochua, deputy leader of Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was held at Kuala Lumpur airport late Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said.

Sochua had flown in from Jakarta in neighbouring Indonesia, where the Cambodian ambassador had stormed a press conference she was giving and attempted to get the event cancelled.

HRW Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told AFP that her detention was "absolutely ludicrous and unacceptable".

"She's done nothing wrong and should be immediately released, and allowed to undertake the consultations she planned with the Malaysia government and civil society groups," he said.

"Malaysia should stand up to Cambodia's bullying of its regional neighbours to do Phnom Penh's dirty work in cracking down against the opposition CNRP exiles."

Speaking on TV in Cambodia, Hun Sen said Sochua had been stopped in Malaysia because authorities were upholding a tenet of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations not to interfere in each other's affairs.

"(Malaysia) did not allow her to go in, what can she do to them, it's their country," he said.

"They cooperate with Cambodia because we are members of ASEAN who don't interfere in each other's internal affairs."

Malaysian immigration authorities did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

Rainsy has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail in Cambodia for convictions he says are politically motivated.

He promised to return for Saturday's Independence Day, and posted images of his ticket from Paris to Thailand, which neighbours Cambodia and would be a transit stop.

However Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said this week Rainsy would not be allowed to transit through the kingdom.

Hun Sen has said that arrest warrants for Rainsy have been sent to neighbouring countries, and troops have been deployed at the Thai-Cambodian border to stop him from travelling home by land.

The CNRP was dissolved in the lead-up to last year's elections in Cambodia, which saw Hun Sen's party win all seats in a process Western governments described as not credible.