Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy arrives in Malaysia

Sam Rainsy, Cambodia’s self-exiled opposition leader, has landed in the Malaysian capital after promising to return home to lead an uprising against longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“Keep up the hope. We are on the right track,” Sam Rainsy said in a message to his supporters, after arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday.

“Democracy will prevail. Democracy has prevailed in Malaysia. Democracy will prevail in Cambodia.”

The 70-year-old founder of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) previously said he wanted to return to his homeland on November 9, Cambodia’s Independence Day, along with other opposition figures to trigger a popular movement to force Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than three decades, from office.

But the Cambodian government has characterised the bid as a coup attempt against Hun Sen and has sought support from neighbouring countries to prevent the opposition leaders’ return.

On Thursday, Sam Rainsy said he was denied permission to board a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok in Paris, the French capital where he has lived since 2015.

A day earlier, the CNRP’s deputy leader, Mu Sochua, was briefly detained after arriving in Kuala Lumpur. Shortly after her detention, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters his government could not let the Cambodian opposition “use Malaysia as a base for struggle in other countries”.

He cited the policy of non-interference in neighbours’ affairs in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which both Malaysia and Cambodia are members.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, meanwhile, has said he would not let Sam Rainsy into the country. The CNRP leaders had said they would return to Cambodia through the land border with Thailand.

When asked at the Kuala Lumpur airport if he planned to return to Cambodia, Sam Rainsy declined to comment but described his visit to Malaysia as a private one.

“I do not deny, I do not confirm,” he said.

He also said he has been invited to meet Malaysian legislators in the country’s parliament on Tuesday.

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