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Opposition party National Assembly Member Chea Poch Returned to Cambodia

Opposition party National Assembly member Chea Poch returned to Cambodia Monday after some six months of self-exile in the United States. He fled Cambodia shortly after he and two party colleagues were targeted for arrest. He reentered Cambodia at Pochentong Airport without incident, he and his family said.

Chea Poch was one of three Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers stripped earlier this year of their parliamentary immunity. The government alleged Chea Poch defamed a royalist party leader by calling him corrupt.

Party leader Sam Rainsy remains in self-exile in Paris and Cheam Channy, who was taken into custody six months ago merely hours after losing his immunity, was sentenced last week to seven years in prison on obviously trumped up charges of attempting to set up a private army to attack the government. Government prosecutors presented meager evidence to support their allegations and Western diplomats and observers verbally scolded the government for continuing to use the judiciary as a political arm.

At the airport, Chea Poch encouraged party leaders to cooperate for the good of the nation and to stop filing lawsuits against each other. He said he no longer fears arrest and he acknowledged his parliamentary immunity has not yet been restored.

Chea Poch said that he came back to Cambodia because of his concerns for his constituents in Prey Veng province, who are victims of drought, floods, and some may even face famine. He added he has no faith in the Cambodian court system, and believes in King Sihamoni instead.

Ly Sovanna, a lawyer for royalist Funcinpec, said the party will continue to proceed with a libel law suit against Chea Poch, who alleged last year that National Assembly President, Prince Norodom Ranaridh accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Prime Minister Hun Sen to form a new ‘’coalition’’ government and gain important ministerial positions for his party.