Cambodian opposition figures state plan to return from exile

Senior executives of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party have announced their plan to return from self-imposed exile to fight criminal charges against them in court

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Senior executives of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party on Tuesday announced their plan to return from self-imposed exile to fight criminal charges against them in court.

The party leaders are among about 130 opposition supporters and other dissidents who are due to be tried early next year on charges including treason and incitement to commit felony. The CNRP executives also face the charge of planning an attack involving violence that could hurt the state and its institutions.

The plan by CNRP leaders to return represents their second attempt to rejoin the political struggle at home. In November last year, Sam Rainsy, the party’s co-founder, sought to return from exile with several colleagues but was blocked by the government. He has been in exile since 2016 to avoid serving a prison sentence for a defamation conviction he insists was politically motivated.

He is not one of the party executives that the CNRP announced would return on Jan. 4. The most prominent would-be returnee is deputy party leader Mu Sochua, a former lawmaker who holds dual Cambodian and American citizenship and now lives in the United States.

Many of the cases against the nearly 130 facing trial, who are mostly charged with treason for taking part in nonviolent political activities over the past three years, involve planning for Sam Rainsy's abortive return.

On Thursday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began hearings in those cases, but quickly adjourned, saying it would split the large number of defendants into two groups to make the proceedings easier. The first group will have its initial hearing on Jan. 14 and the other on March 4.