It’s a Sunday afternoon in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Keng Kang 1 commune, and Little Fashion is buzzing. Every weekend, the popular clothing shop fills with customers—not ordinary window shoppers, but loyal Facebook fans—all looking to try on or pick up whatever items caught their eye on social media that week.
Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy has sent a request to Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni asking for permission to return to Cambodia in order to pay his respects to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who died October 15 in Beijing.
Currently in self-imposed exile in Paris—where he has now been for three years—Mr. Rainsy wrote his request in two letters sent and delivered October 18 to the Council of Ministers and King Sihamoni’s cabinet.
“During this time of great sadness, I would like Samdech’s help and understanding to allow me to pay my respects to his soul and see the King Father’s face for the last time in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Rainsy wrote in the letter.
“I was very close to the King Father and I owe him a lot. So the least I could do is pay my last respects,” Mr. Rainsy said by telephone from Paris.
“I would be happy [to return], even for 24 hours,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy was sentenced in 2010 to a total of 12 years in prison on charges of incitement, disinformation and destruction of public property for removing a temporary border marker along the frontier with Vietnam. Although critics slammed the verdict for being politically motivated, Mr. Rainsy has remained abroad, often communicating with his supporters through video link.
He recently vowed that he would return to Cambodia in December to lead the national election campaign of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, a newly merged coalition between the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, chief of cabinet for the late Norodom Sihanouk, confirmed that King Sihamoni’s staff had received the letter, but admitted that it was not something the King could intervene on.
“There is an arrest warrant against Sam Rainsy. So if the King allows him to come and pay his respect to the King Father, then what about the arrest warrant? The King cannot decide this case,” Prince Thomico said.
“This is a decision from the royal government.”
Prince Thomico added that in the spirit of honoring Norodom Sihanouk, the government should consider issuing a blanket amnesty for all political prisoners, and under those circumstances, Mr. Rainsy could return without fear of arrest.
“King Sihanouk is a symbol of national reconciliation and I think it would be a good opportunity on this occasion for the government to grant an amnesty to all political prisoners,” Prince Thomico said. “This would be a great opportunity to show that the royal government is paying respects to the King Sihanouk.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, referred questions to officials at Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet. Deputy chief of the prime minister’s Cabinet, Lim Leangse, declined to comment.
Mr. Rainsy was one of the first members of Funcinpec, the royalist party formed by Norodom Sihanouk when he was in Paris in 1981. Though he went on to become a Funcinpec minister of finance after the 1993 elections, Mr. Rainsy was subsequently expelled from the royalist party in 1994 after a disagreement with his party leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and CPP leader Mr. Hun Sen, who were sharing the role of co-prime ministers at the time.
Mr. Rainsy said that any disagreements he had at the time with Prince Ranariddh and Funcinpec did not extend to the King Father.
“[Norodom Sihanouk] gave me a lot of advice when I was minister of finance—he encouraged me to stop corruption in government, and to stop deforestation,” Mr. Rainsy said by telephone from Paris.
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