Malaysia detains Cambodian opposition leader Mu Sochua

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia , Phnom Penh, Cambodia Published: Nov 07, 2019, 12.34 PM(IST)

Mu Sochua, Deputy President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), reacts as she talks to journalists after a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 6, 2019. Photograph:( Reuters )

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The detention came as Sam Rainsy, the founder of the opposition party, prepared to fly from Paris to Bangkok, vowing to return to Cambodia on Saturday.

Malaysia has detained Cambodian former minister Mu Sochua, rights groups said on Thursday, after Phnom Penh sought her arrest on grounds that she and other self-exiled members of the banned opposition were plotting a coup in trying to return home.

The detention came as Sam Rainsy, the founder of the opposition party, prepared to fly from Paris to Bangkok, vowing to return to Cambodia on Saturday to lead demonstrations against the one-party rule of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.

It was unclear if any of the opposition figures abroad would reach Cambodia. Thailand has said it will not allow transit for Sam Rainsy, and Malaysia this week detained two other opposition leaders who were trying to fly to Thailand.

A dual US-Cambodian citizen and former women's minister, Mu Sochua, 65, is vice president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and one of the highest-profile opposition leaders detained in Hun Sen's efforts to prevent their return.

Thailand had denied her entry.

On Wednesday, she held a news conference in Indonesia to denounce a crackdown by Cambodian authorities, who have arrested dozens of opposition activists at home and deployed troops along the borders ahead of the leaders' planned return.

"What do they fear?" she asked. "They totally fear the determination of the people of Cambodia, who are responding positively to our appeal, which is that together we will build a better Cambodia."

Sochua later flew to Malaysia, only to be detained. She was being held at the airport in its capital, said Jerald Joseph, an official of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission.

Joseph said he had spoken with Sochua, who had been told she would not be deported to Cambodia. It was not immediately clear where authorities would send her next.

Malaysia's immigration department did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

Sochua had fled Cambodia in 2017 under threat of arrest amid a mass crackdown on the opposition. The party's leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested on treason charges and remains under house arrest. The Supreme Court later dissolved the CNRP.

Sochua's news conference in the Indonesian capital was interrupted by the Cambodian ambassador, who urged that she should not be given a forum.

The Cambodian embassy asked Indonesia, as a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping, to detain her.

The embassy sought her deportation to Cambodia "in the true spirit of ASEAN," it said in a statement, adding that similar requests had been made to neighbouring countries.

Instead, Sochua flew to Malaysia, where she said she knew she could also be arrested.

"They will follow me, they will follow us, all the way," she said on Wednesday.

Sochua has been charged in a plot to topple the Cambodian government, national police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said.

"There is an arrest warrant for her, we really want her but we don't know what is Malaysia's position," he added.

Sochua's detention in Malaysia is unacceptable, said New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"She's done nothing wrong and should be immediately released and allowed to undertake the consultations she planned with the Malaysia government and civil society groups," said Phil Robertson, the group's deputy director for Asia.

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