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Cambodia Court Sentences Exiled Opposition Figure to Life in Jail

FILE - Cambodian opponent in exile and leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy, speaks to the press as he arrives at the court house accused in a defamation lawsuit filed by Cambodia's prime minister, in Paris on September 1, 2022.

Cambodia sentenced exiled opposition figure Sam Rainsy to life imprisonment on Wednesday for allegedly attempting to cede territory to a foreign entity, according to a court ruling.

The case related to the politician's promises to protect the rights of the country's indigenous people, who continue to face discrimination mostly over land rights.

A document from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court -- seen by AFP -- said Rainsy had been "sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of attempting to hand over a part of national territory to a foreign entity" in 2013.

The court also stripped him of all political rights, it added.

It relates to a 2013 meeting between Rainsy and a leader of the US-based Montagnard Foundation, which works to protect the rights of indigenous minorities in Vietnam.

A video posted by an anonymous Facebook account in 2018 appeared to show him pledging to uphold the rights of Cambodia's indigenous people.

Rainsy and the Montagnard Foundation's then-leader Kok Ksor also signed a document with three articles from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on minorities' self-determination rights.

But Cambodian authorities accused him of treachery, and of attempting to give land to foreigners.

Montagnard people are a mostly Christian ethnic minority group that lives in Vietnam's mountainous Central Highlands region.

Rainsy has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail on a number of convictions he says are politically motivated, including a 25-year sentence passed in March last year.

Strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said Rainsy's family have been traitors to Cambodia.