WASHINGTON DC - Cambodia's newly-pardoned opposition leader has returned home from exile to guide his party's election campaign against Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Thousands of cheering supporters gathered outside Phnom Penh's airport and lined the road into the city Friday to welcome Sam Rainsy home. Rainsey kissed the ground at the airport and told the crowd he was happy to be home. He is expected to speak at a rally later in the day. Although King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned him last week, Rainsy will not be allowed to run in the July 28 election.
Rainsey had been living in France after fleeing Cambodia in 2009, before a court sentenced him to 11 years in prison.
The pardon is a boost to supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the coalition of key opposition parties that combined to contest the election.
The courts sentenced Rainsy to two years in prison for uprooting a temporary border marker with Vietnam, and a further nine years for misinformation after he showed off a map the government said provided the wrong borders.
The sentence was widely seen as a clumsy attempt to use the courts to hobble Hun Sen's most trenchant and effective political opponent.
Hun Sen has been in power for nearly three decades.