Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday asking to be allowed to return to Cambodia for his mother-in-law’s funeral on Sunday on the condition that he return to France after the ceremony, a CNRP spokesman said.
However, a CPP spokesman said Mr. Rainsy—who is facing a slew of charges and a conviction widely perceived to be politically motivated—would be arrested if he somehow managed to enter Cambodia despite orders for officials to use any means to keep him out.
Mr. Rainsy’s mother-in-law, Nhiek Tioulong Measket Samphotre, the matriarch of one of the country’s most prominent families during the rule of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk, died at her home in Phnom Penh on Thursday at the age of 96.
As a result, the opposition leader, who before being officially exiled last month had been living abroad for almost a year to avoid jail time, sent a letter to the premier asking to pay a brief visit to take part in her funeral, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said.
“Because his mother-in-law passed away he wants to participate in the funeral and he asked the prime minister to intervene and he promised that he will go back to France after the funeral,” Mr. Sovann said, adding that Mr. Hun Sen had not yet replied.
Mr. Rainsy would only return if he received the all-clear from the prime minister, Mr. Sovann said.
“It depends on them,” he said. “He cannot get on board because the government informed the flight companies already to not accept him, so we need a discussion to allow him on board first.”
Mr. Rainsy did not respond to a request for comment.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he was unaware of the letter but reiterated that the CNRP president would not be allowed back on Cambodian soil.
“I don’t think there was a letter as I didn’t get such information,” Mr. Eysan said.
“If he comes he will be arrested because they will implement the court warrant since there is an arrest warrant issued already,” he said. “Whenever they see his face, he will be arrested.”
Mr. Rainsy announced the death of his mother-in-law in a Facebook post on Friday.
“My wife Saumura and I, with all our family, feel great pain and sorrow following the death today of our mother and mother-in-law, Ms. Nhiek Tioulong Measket Samphotre, at the age of 96, at our home in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Rainsy wrote.
Mr. Hun Sen sent his condolences to the Tioulong family in a letter, and his youngest son Hun Many, a ruling party lawmaker, visited Tioulong Saumura, a longtime opposition lawmaker herself, at the family’s home on Friday.
“We understand about the suffering of the sons and daughters who have lost their beloved benefactor,” Mr. Hun Sen wrote. “My wife and I sincerely offer our condolences on the death, in a gesture that we are the same Khmer nationality.”
Nhiek Tioulong Measket Samphotre was married to Chakrey Nhiek Tioulong, a well-respected politician, diplomat and military general under Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s government, until he died in 1996. The family left Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge and she returned in the early 1990s after the Paris Peace Agreement was signed.
CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said she loved Mr. Rainsy “like her own son.”
“Our party leader wanted to see and pay respects to his mother-in-law for the last time before the cremation,” he said.
“But he doesn’t want to do anything that could cause trouble to his mother-in-law’s soul, so it’s up to the heart of the prime minister whether or not to allow him to come back to pay his respects for the last time.”
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