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King Pardons Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni on Sunday officially pardons opposition party leader Sam Rainsy and opposition lawmakers Cheam Channy, according to the lawyers from both sides, the sources close to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the royal palaces.

VOA has also seen the copy of the King's letter.

Opposition party president Sam Rainsy was found guilty by the Phnom Penh court late last year in the defamation lawsuits filed by both the prime minister and national assembly president Norodom Ranariddh last year. The court sentenced him in absentia to 18 month in prison.

The SRP president has reportedly recanted his accusations against the two Cambodian leaders.

Opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy was found guilty of attempting to form an illegal army last year and was sentenced to a seven-year jail term.

Sam Rainsy's lawyer, Som Chan Dina, said Sam Rainsy can return to Cambodia as early as next week once he has received the King's letter of pardon. Mr. Sam Rainsy who is currently living in exile in Paris, France, can not be reached for comment Sunday.

One of Cheam Channy's lawyers said his client is expected to be released from the military prison tomorrow (Monday 2/6/06). A few days ago, King Sihamoni reduced Cheam Channy's sentence from 7 years to 3 years in prison.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith did not offer much explanation on the government's compromise. However the spokesman did emphasize the government's willingness to end all lawsuits.

Opposition party officials expect the national assembly to restore Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy's parliamentary immunity very soon.

Another opposition lawmaker, Chea Poch, who was also sued by the government on defamation charges like Sam Rainsy, is reportedly working with his lawyers to write letters to PM Hun Sen and national assembly president Norodom Ranariddh to end his case as well.