March 18 (UPI) -- A Cambodia court Monday issued warrants for the exiled leaders of the country's top opposition group after they started making plans to return.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders are accused of incitement to commit a felony and plotting to commit treason. The party was disbanded by the government in 2017, clearing the way for the ruling Cambodian People's Party to control all 125 National Assembly seats and strengthening the power of its 33-year leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The warrants seek the arrest of the CNRP's acting president Sam Rainsy, vice presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, and former lawmakers Long Ry, Men Sothavarin, Ou Chanrath, Tok Vanchan and Ho Vann.
"This is nothing more than a threat and intimidation," Sochua said about the warrants. "We are determined to move forward in our mission to rescue the motherland and our people from a dictatorship. Democracy must be restored. Hun Sen is responsible for the economy and any form of sanctions imposed by the (European Union), the U.S. and others."
Cambodia's incitement to commit offense carries a sentence from six months and two years in prison, while the plotting charge comes with a sentence from five to 10 years.
Human Rights Watch complained in January that Sen hounded his critics and ended press freedoms along with dissolving the CNRP to hold what it called "bogus elections" to ensure he would continue to serve as prime minister unchallenged.
"Hun Sen has strangled the promises of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which aimed to create a democratic and rights-respecting Cambodia, while the countries that pledged to support those accords largely looked away," Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director said.
The EU is planning on sending a fact-finding team to assess the human rights situation in Cambodia.