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Opposition Leader Returns to Cambodia

Opposition party leader returns to Cambodia from more than a year of self-imposed exile in France. Mr. Sam Rainsy yells to about 2,000 supporters greeting him at the Phnom Penh International airport that he is very happy to be home.

His supporters, and reporters surround him, with Cambodian flags and Sam Rainsy party (SRP) flags waving, and he says that he is very happy to be with the Cambodian people, the nationalists and democratic people. His supporters hoisted him, and he told the crowd that he favors dialogue, and would like to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, and National Assembly's president prince Norodom Ranariddh.

He told reporters and his supporters that his party's principles and ideals remain the same. In December, Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced Mr. Sam Rainsy in absentia to 18 months in prison for defamation acgainst the prime minister and the prince.

King Sihamoni pardons Mr. Rainsy, along with Mr. Cheam Channy and Mr. Chea Poch from the opposition party after Mr. Hun Sen appeals to the King for a royal pardon on Sunday.

They will receive their parliamentary immunities. Mr. Sam Rainsy says he wants to put differences with Mr. Hun Sen behind him and concentrates on national interests.

He wants the Cambodian people to have a good future, for Cambodia to have democracy, and demands the leadership to have a dialogue.

He says that he will begin talk swith all the leaders, all the parties like prosperous and democratic countries do. He wants to solve the national problem.

Human rights organizations warn that there will still be a crackdown.

Prince Ranariddh welcomes Mr. Rainsy's return. The U.S. and the international community are happy with the opposition leader's return and consider the detente as a welcome sign of the spread of democracy in Cambodia.

Mr. Sam Rainsy fled to France after the National Assembly stripped his parliamentary immunity along with Mr. Chea Channy and Mr. Chea Poch of the SRP.