Sokha on local tour, stays out of politics

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Kem Sokha (centre) receives a blessing at the Angkor Thom temple in Siem Reap province. Facebook

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha is touring the Kingdom to pay his respects to fallen heroes and learn about the effects of Covid-19 on farmers and the tourism sector, one of his lawyers said.

But Sokha, the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP who is on trial for treason, has not carried out political activities banned by the court, stressed his lawyer Chan Cheng.

Sokha’s public appearances come after a long silence since the court allowed him to walk free – but not beyond the country’s borders – on November 10. His trial was postponed because of Covid-19.

Cheng told The Post on Sunday that Sokha travelled to Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces on July 6 to learn about crops and livelihoods amid the pandemic.

On July 10, he went to Takeo province to pay his respects to the family of slain social analyst Kem Ley. On Friday and Saturday, he visited Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces.

“These were not political activities and did not violate the ban at all. He has gone there to pay his respects to fallen heroes such as Oknha Klaing Moeung, kings of the Angkor Wat temple and Nokor Thom [Angkor Thom]. He has prayed for peace for the country and its people,” Cheng said.

Meng Sopheary, another of Sokha’s lawyers, said he could visit general people, politicians and his old colleagues but organising political activities is banned by the court.

“It’s not the first time Sokha has left the house. Since November, he has left home several times but his movements were not announced. Normally, if people stay put, they get bored and stressed. He leaves home for provinces, especially visiting his plantation to get fresh air and see the landscape,” she said.

Former CNRP official Meach Sovannara who greeted Sokha in Banteay Meanchey said Sokha did not meet political activists, though some paid him a courtesy visit. He also visited former party members who are ill.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said an investigating judge decided that Sokha had been banned from carrying out political activities and going abroad.

However, he said: “No institution can interpret the case of Kem Sokha except the court, which is independent.

“The court banned him from two things – going abroad and carrying out political activities. Whether his actions are political or not depends on the investigating judge, who is the one to define and determine the legality [of his activities].”

Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Sokha’s visits confirmed that his situation is much relieved, especially after he had offered his condolences to Prime Minister Hun Sen whose mother-in-law passed away in early May.

He said pressure on Sokha went down as internal splits within the CNRP had appeared and supporters for Sokha and Sam Rainsy, the CNRP’s self-proclaimed “acting president”, criticised each other on social media.

“When it comes to an alliance between Sokha and Rainsy, they are not united as one anymore. These two groups are waiting to see who leaves the CNRP first. Now, they are still afraid of each other.

“Strategically, or for political goals, it is different already. They previously joined forces to fight a common enemy – the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Now, Rainsy and Sokha dare not announce the establishment of a new party for fear that their supporters will lose confidence,” he said.

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