Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy is in the United States, meeting with political leaders and campaigning to get Western donor nations to help him return to parliament.
In an exclusive VOA interview, he says Cambodian authorities are trying to silence the political opposition.
The former finance minister fled his native country last Thursday, after he and two opposition party leaders were stripped of immunity from prosecution, following a vote in the National Assembly.
The vote means Sam Rainsy can be prosecuted for defamation by his political rival, Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The United Nations special representative for human rights in Cambodia is urging the National Assembly to restore parliamentary immunity to the three opposition members.
Sam Rainsy says his quest for foreign support could be effective because Cambodia depends heavily on international assistance. He says the government needs international assistance for its very survival.
The following is the text of the interview:
Sir, welcome to VOA. I'm delighted you could be here today.
The U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia is calling on the National Assembly to restore your parliamentary immunity and the parliamentary immunity of two of your colleagues. Are you encouraged by this?
Mr. Rainsy: Yes, very much. I'm very much encouraged by the reaction from the U.N. Representative but also from U.S. senators and from the State Department. I'm encouraged to see that people care about what is happening in Cambodia.
VOA: Now, statements from organizations outside the country, the United Nations, the United States, other places, what practical impact does that have on politics within Cambodia? What is likely to happen?
Mr. Rainsy: It will have an impact, because Cambodia depends heavily on international assistance. And the Cambodian Government needs international assistance for its very survival.
VOA: What are you going to do? What's your next step as you try to rejoin Cambodia's political life?
Mr. Rainsy: I will be asking for solidarity from members of parliaments around the world. Because members of parliament have the right and the duty to speak out and to speak up to defend the interests of their constituents. And in the present circumstances, the authorities in Cambodia is just trying to silence members of parliament from the opposition party.
VOA: Have you met with, or do you expect to meet with, members of the U.S. Congress or the U.S. Senate here today or this week?
Mr. Rainsy: Yes, I have been meeting with senators and members of the House. For the next few days, I will have the honor to meet other members of the Congress.
VOA: And earlier you said you were going to take your campaign, your struggle, your however you want to characterize it, from here to where?
Mr. Rainsy: From Washington, D.C. to Europe, to Brussels, to Berlin, to London, and, later on, maybe to Tokyo and to Canberra.
VOA: Are we going to see a functional democratic Cambodia in our lifetime?
Mr. Rainsy: Yes. We have to fight for it.
VOA: What brings you here to VOA today? Why did you come here?
Mr. Rainsy: I have the honor to speak to Cambodian listeners in Cambodia, because VOA is the most popular radio station in Cambodia. People rely [on it] for objective and balanced information from VOA.
VOA: Hun Sen's action, what do you think that says about his democratic credentials? What does that do to his reputation?
Mr. Rainsy: I think Cambodia has suffered a setback. Democracy is now in a difficult situation.
VOA: What does this problem, this dispute, what does it say to the donors, the foreign donors, who are helping Cambodia?
Mr. Rainsy: Donors are entitled to see that their assistance is effectively used. But unfortunately this is not the case in Cambodia. In order for international assistance to be effectively used, we need democracy. We need transparency. We need the rule of law. We need accountability. And we need checks and balances, which imply a vibrant opposition. If the Cambodian Government eliminates the opposition, there will be no democracy, no governance, and therefore donors will waste the money that they give to Cambodia.
VOA: Your wife is also a member of parliament, is that correct?
Mr. Rainsy: Yes, she is.
VOA: She still has her immunity. Is she likely to step forward and fill the place that you once filled in parliament, the leadership role?
Mr. Rainsy: The 24 members of parliament from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party have been working closely together and we will cont to do so.
VOA: Thank you very much.
Mr. Rainsy: Thank you.