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Cambodian Dissident Cleared in Defamation Trial in France

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.

A French court on Monday cleared veteran Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy of all charges in defamation cases brought by the prime minister and a top police official of his home country.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his son-in-law and deputy national police chief, Dy Vichea, had filed complaints against France-based Rainsy, 73, over Facebook posts dating back to 2019.

Hun Sen contested Rainsy's allegation that he was behind the 2008 death in a helicopter crash of national police chief Hok Lundy, who was Dy Vichea's father.

"Hun Sen killed Hok Lundy using a bomb placed inside his helicopter," Rainsy claimed on Facebook.

The leader of Cambodia's government "decided to murder Hok Lundy because he knew too much about Hun Sen's misdeeds", he added.

Rainsy is the co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the southeast Asian nation's main opposition movement.

He spent years fighting Hun Sen -- who has ruled for the past 37 years -- before seeking refuge in 2015 in France, where he is a dual national.

Rainsy is the target of several court cases in Cambodia, where he says he is being persecuted for political reasons.

The government there accused him of an attempted coup when he sought to return in 2019.

Rainsy welcomed the court's decision "with great emotion", his lawyers, Mathias Chichportich and Jessica Finelle, said in a statement Monday.

"The French judiciary strongly recognises the legitimacy of his action and gives its backing to his freedom of expression," they said.

During his trial, Rainsy had told the court that in Cambodia "all those who want to tell the truth end up dead, in prison or in exile".

He called Facebook "my only window of expression".