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Cambodian PM Sues Opposition Leader in French Court

FILE - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the first plenary parliament session at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia September 5, 2018.
FILE - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the first plenary parliament session at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia September 5, 2018.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has filed a defamation lawsuit in French court against his longtime political enemy Sam Rainsy, a lawyer for the Southeast Asian leader said Tuesday.

Paris-based Luc Brossollet confirmed to The Associated Press by phone a report by the Cambodia’s pro-government online Fresh News service that said Hun Sen filed a civil suit over allegations Sam Rainsy reportedly made on Facebook and in an interview. Sam Rainsy was said to have claimed that the Cambodian leader had masterminded the killing of former national police chief Hok Lundy, who died in a 2008 helicopter crash.

Hun Sen has filed several lawsuits against Sam Rainsy in what is generally seen as a form of political harassment. Sam Rainsy has been in exile since late 2015 to avoid a two-year prison sentence on charges of criminal defamation. Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, has used Cambodian courts — which are seen as being under the government’s influence — against other opposition figures as well.

Sam Rainsy, who maintains a residence near Paris, is believed to be traveling and was not immediately available for comment.

The announcement of the lawsuit comes just days after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was co-founded and for several years led by Sam Rainsy, said he would make a long-promised return to the country in early November.

The opposition group, dissolved by court order in November 2017, said in an emailed announcement that Sam Rainsy and other party leaders will return to Cambodia on Nov. 9, which is the country’s independence day, marking when it obtained its freedom from France in 1953.

There are apparently at least a dozen lawsuits filed by Hun Sen or his government against Sam Rainsy that are pending or completed.

In 2016, he was found guilty of defamation for claiming that Hun Sen’s Facebook page had boosted its number of “likes” by purchasing them from brokers. He was also sentenced in absentia for allegedly posting a fake claim that Hun Sen was willing to cede national territory to neighboring Vietnam. In 2017, a Phnom Penh court found him guilty of defaming Hun Sen and ordered him to pay $1 million in damages for claiming the prime minister had paid a bribe to an activist to disrupt the opposition party.

Hun Sen was quoted by Cambodia’s Khmer Times newspaper in March as saying his lawyers were considering filing 32 lawsuits against Sam Rainsy over his various Facebook posts.

The same French legal team representing Hun Sen has also filed a separate suit on behalf of Dy Vichea, Hun Sen’s son-in law and the deputy chief of the national police, it was announced Tuesday. The suit says Sam Rainsy claimed that Dy Vichea — who was Hok Lundy’s son — believed Hun Sen was responsible for his father’s death and sought revenge by plotting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng against the Cambodian leader.

The cases in France will have to be accepted by the court in order to proceed.

Sar Kheng, who is also deputy prime minister, in July filed a complaint over the same allegation with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against Sam Rainsy, accusing him of inciting disunity and asking for $1 million in damages.