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Exiled Cambodian Opposition Leader Sentenced in Absentia to 5 Years in Prison

FILE - Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
FILE - Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison Tuesday over a Facebook posting that raised questions about the validity of Cambodia's border with Vietnam.

The sentence comes after months of strain between Rainsy's opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which faces local elections next year.

Rainsy, along with two members of his social media team, were found guilty of reposting a faked 1979 border treaty which purported to show Vietnam and Cambodia agreeing to dissolve their mutual boundary. Rainsy's lawyers argued that his aides found the mistranslated document on the Internet and did not know it was fake.

All three of the accused are living outside of Cambodia and were tried in absentia. Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest over a defamation conviction he says was politically motivated.

In response to the latest sentence, Rainsy posted on Twitter that the case against him and his associates had been "fabricated" by a "kangaroo court."

Border issues have for centuries been worrisome for Cambodia, which has fretted about its much larger neighbors of Vietnam and Thailand encroaching on its territory.

Hun Sen has led the Southeast Asian country for more than three decades but his influence was weakened in the 2013 general election when CNRP captured 55 legislative seats, leaving the ruling party with 68 seats in the 123-seat assembly.

Opposition members have accused Hen Sen of intimidating critics before the regional elections next year and a general election in 2018.