WASHINGTON DC & PHNOM PENH —
Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy are scheduled for talks on Tuesday, to resolve differences between their parties that have led to political deadlock, violent demonstrations and last week’s arrest of eight opposition members.
Political observers and members of the business community say they hope the talks are able to bring a resolution to the yearlong political crisis between the opposition and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, returned to Cambodia Saturday to throngs of supporters. He called for nonviolence from his supporters and the release of his lawmakers.
The scheduled talks come amid rising calls for the release of the jailed lawmakers, who face 30 years in prison if convicted on charges of insurrection and incitement.
International groups added their support to calls for the release of arrested opposition members, including the outspoken Mu Sochua, who holds a US passport and has a high profile among some groups in Washington, DC.
Alyse Nelson, director of Vital Voices, an organization that supports global women leaders and was initiated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said she and others will mount an international campaign to gain the release of Mu Sochua and her fellow opposition members.
“These are really trumped-up charges in a government who continues to show that they are not transparent and where there is corruption,” Nelson said.
Local NGOs called for their release on Monday. “The rights to freedom of expression and assembly is an essential element exercised in many democratic countries such as Cambodia,” the groups said in a statement.
Mu Sochua, her assistant and six other lawmakers-elect were arrested in the wake of violent clashes last Tuesday, when opposition supporters turned on city security guards who had barred them from gathering at Freedom Park in the capital.
Anna Burger, a renowned labor activist and longtime friend of Mu Sochua, said the Rescue Party lawmaker had worked hard to maintain nonviolence, as she pushed for the end of a government ban on public assembly.
“So the fact that they’ve arrested her and other leaders is just clear to the world that Hun Sen is trying to step on any possibility of real democracy in Cambodia,” she said. “It’s time for the entire world to speak up and speak out in support of Mu Sochua and other members of parliament who have been arrested. We need to have real democracy in Cambodia, and it’s time for the world to become involved.”