Cambodia's exiled opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has accused the government of pressuring Thailand into rejecting his entry into Bangkok. Cambodian and Thai authorities deny any pressure. But Rainsy says Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen is losing ground ahead of the July election and is doing his best to hinder the opposition.
Rainsy, who lives in in France, was scheduled to launch his autobiography - We Didn't Start the Fire: My Struggle for Democracy in Cambodia - Wednesday night at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT).
He arrived in Bangkok Tuesday from South Korea but was met by immigration officials at the airport who said he could not enter until after July, when a national election in Cambodia will be over.
Rainsy left for Singapore and instead spoke to the FCCT via Skype. He accused the Cambodian government of interfering or pressuring Thailand to keep him out. He said the ban showed the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen was growing afraid of the opposition.
"I am Mr. Hun Sen's only credible challenger and he wants to win an election without any challenger. It is like a boxer on [in] the ring. He wants to box alone, whereas I should be boxing against him. And, now he is even more afraid that I come too close to the ring," he said.
Rainsy has lived in self-imposed exile since 2005 to avoid an eleven year prison sentence for charges he says are politically motivated.
Rainsy says in recent months he was welcomed by leaders in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines but closer relations between Thailand and Cambodia, he says, seems to have created what he calls a "special problem."
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra revived warm ties with Cambodia established by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin also lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a politically-charged sentence at home. But Rainsy noted, unlike himself, Thaksin is treated well in Cambodia.
"In Cambodia he was received by Mr. Hun Sen, even around election times in Thailand. So, what I can notice, is that Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, a good friend of Mr. Hun Sen, even a former advisor to Mr. Hun Sen, came to Cambodia very often, he was received with the highest honor," he noted.
Rainsy was banned from the July election but his Cambodia National Rescue Party will take part.
Cambodia and Thailand deny any pressure or conspiracy to keep Rainsy out.
Thailand's Foreign Ministry said Rainsy's planned book launch, and meeting with journalists, just ahead of the election, were unacceptable political activities.
Ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said the actions were deemed detrimental to a friendly country and might affect Thailand's interests.
"The Thai authorities concerned deemed that such a visit with such activity has a political motive against a neighboring country and is timed especially during an approaching election in that neighboring country. Accordingly, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has requested immigration department to ban Mr. Sam Rainsy's entry into Thailand," said Srisodapol.