BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand has denied entry to Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy over concerns that he would engage in political campaigning in the neighboring Southeast Asian nation, officials said Wednesday.
Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in France, will not be allowed to enter Thailand until a general election in Cambodia is over, Foreign Ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol told The Associated Press.
"The Thai government does not allow a third party to use Thailand as a location to carry out a political activity that could have an impact on our allied countries, especially the neighbors," Manasvi said. "So we told him not to come and hold it until after the election."
A longtime opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, Cambodia's former finance minister, is in self-imposed exile to avoid 12 years in prison from convictions widely seen as politically motivated. His party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, faces an uphill battle against Prime Minister Hun Sen's well-organized and financed political machine in the general election in July, and is campaigning without Sam Rainsy's presence in the country.
Sam Rainsy was scheduled to attend a launch of his autobiography at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Wednesday, but Manasvi said he was turned away Tuesday at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
"The Thai authorities have considered the case and deliberated that he could not avoid conducting a political activity at this event, so we had to deny him the entry," Manasvi said.
FCCT President Anasuya Sanyal said the book launch, sponsored by the book's publisher, would not be canceled and that Sam Rainsy would call in to talk via Skype. She said that the club did not regard the planned event "as something controversial in any way" and that the entry denial "came as a shock to most people."
"The FCCT continues to be a space for freedom of expression, and that's why we are who we are," she said.
Thailand has denied visas to several visitors, fearing the trips could upset ties with other countries, including the sister of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as well as activists from Indonesia and Vietnam.
Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told local reporters in Phnom Penh that the ban on Sam Rainsy's entry was an internal issue of Thailand, and that the Cambodian government had not asked Bangkok for the opposition leader to be detained or extradited.