Cambodia Snubs Opposition Leader Kem Sokha’s New Year Call for Unity

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha and the country’s ruling party clashed Tuesday over the detained CNRP chief’s call for national unity and reconciliation, with a government spokesman saying the country is already unified under the rule of long-serving prime minister Hun Sen.

Writing on his Facebook page, Kem Sokha—president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party—said that only unity and national reconciliation will move Cambodia forward to improve people’s lives, defend national sovereignty, and restore the country’s economy—now weakened by shutdowns amid the spread of COVID-19.

“Now is not time to divide Cambodia to serve [political] ambitions,” Kem Sokha wrote on the eve of the April 14-16 observance of the Khmer New Year, adding, “Unity brings happiness, division brings sorrow. Unity brings survival, division brings death. Unity brings strength, division brings weakness.”

Speaking in response to an RFA question, government spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia has no need to “unite” because there is no division or war in the Southeast Asian nation, which has now been ruled by Hun Sen for more than 36 years.

“I don’t see any division [in Cambodia],” Phay Siphan said. “I only see people who are breaking the law and not respecting the law.”

“Kem Sokha violated the law, and his case is now in the courts, so the courts should be allowed to handle his case,” he said.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November 2017 and barred its members from taking part in political activities, two months after the arrest of party president Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple Hun Sen’s government.

The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in the country’s 2018 general election.

In a New Year’s address on April 8, Hun Sen lauded himself for the ban of the widely popular opposition party, saying the group had sought to show chaos in the country. Observers meanwhile urged both sides to pursue political reconciliation for the good of the nation.

Also speaking to RFA, social development analyst Meas Ny said there is no sign that Cambodia’s political divisions will reconcile any time soon. The divisions in Cambodia are real and date back to ancient times, he said.

“To this day we still quarrel with each other. We’re not done yet,” he said.

Call to accept Chinese vaccine

Acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen meanwhile clashed this week over the opposition leader’s call on April 11 for Cambodia’s people to accept Chinese-made COVID vaccines—mistrusted by many in Cambodia—as effective in controlling the spread of the disease, with Hun Sen attributing the statement to political motives.

“He has another agenda, and that is to urge people to flock to get the vaccine all at the same time!” Hun Sen said.

Speaking to RFA on April 13, Sam Rainsy said he had never told people not to take the Chinese-made vaccine.

“But I made a comparison of the quality of each vaccine from America, the UK, Russia, and China, based on the studies conducted by international organizations, and I noted that the quality of the Chinese vaccine is lower than that of the Americans and the UK,” he said.

“Nevertheless, in our present circumstances, given that we do not have enough vaccines, we should accept any type of vaccine, even it is only 50 percent or 70 percent effective. This is better than getting nothing.”

“That is why I called on our people not to wait any longer,” he said.

Cambodia launched a drive to inoculate at least 10 million of its 16 million people in February, and by April 12 1,099,811 Cambodians had been vaccinated with the Chinese-made Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines or the India-based UK AstraZeneca vaccine, according to Cambodia’s Ministry of Health.

As of April 13, Cambodia has seen 4,696 positive cases of COVID-19, among whom 2,252 patients were treated and discharged, 2,406 are currently undergoing medical treatment, and 33 have died, the Ministry of Health said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.



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