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Dialogue Elusive as World Powers Call for Talks

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, second from right, shakes hands with the main opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, left, of Cambodia National Rescue Party, as Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, second from left, looks on after a meeting in Senate headquarter, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

At least 16 other opposition members and supporters have been jailed since the two parties in late 2014 agreed to work together in parliament under a so-called culture of dialogue.

The United States and European Union have expressed concern over the deteriorating political situation in Cambodia following weeks of tension between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Last week, the U.S. Embassy said it was deeply worried by the deployment off paramilitary forces to the CNRP headquarters during a march by opposition supporters.

The statement was followed on Monday by an E.U. released which echoed the sentiment of the U.S., saying it regretted the “dangerous political escalation…and urge the Cambodian authorities to resume as soon as possible a peaceful and constructive dialogue with the opposition.”

Armed police attempted to arrest Kem Sokha last Thursday while his car was traveling on a busy road in the capital, but he was not in the car. Security forces later appeared at the party headquarters to try again without success.

Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said that there had been no formal approach from the CNRP to request talks and that renewed dialogue was unlikely in the near future.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is due to visit Malaysia in the coming days, while Interior Minister Sar Kheng is on a tour of the provinces, he said. “So there is no time.”

Eang Chhay Eang, a CNRP lawmaker, said the party’s working group stood ready to hold talks, adding that Kem Sokha was now staying at the party headquarters, fearing arrest.

“He is staying here. Now, we don’t know when they [police] will arrest him... in here, we received the citizens and let them observe every day,” he said.

The E.U. statement on Monday also called for an end to the “harassment” of civil society representatives. Four local rights workers and an election official were arrested in early May and soon after they were held on bribery charges.

Eysan said that all discussion of the possibility of the cases against Kem Sokha and the civil society members were off the table in any potential talks in the future.

He added that it was only a matter of time before Kem Sokha was apprehended.

“Nobody intimidated him. When the day for the arrest comes, they will go to arrest [him] because this [arrest] was approved by parliament. So, it’s now in the stage of the judiciary’s power,” he said.

Kem Sokha is being investigated for allegedly procuring the services of a prostitute, a minor offense under Cambodia’s criminal code. He is also the subject of two defamation cases related to the prostitution charge.

He has failed to attend two court hearings in recent weeks, an offense that carries a penalty of up to six months in prison and a fine.

The party leader, Sam Rainsy, remains in self-imposed exile since an arrest warrant was issued over years-old defamation ruling that would see him jailed for two years upon his return.

Since the arrest of the rights workers and election official in early May, protesters have gathered on Mondays dressed in black to call for their release.

At least 16 other opposition members and supporters have been jailed since the two parties in late 2014 agreed to work together in parliament under a so-called culture of dialogue, ending about a year of parliamentary boycotts and street protests that were often met with violence.