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Former Cambodian Opposition Leader Warns Easing of Tensions a ‘Trick’

FILE PHOTO - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, talks with the main Opposition Party leader Sam Rainsy, left, of Cambodia National Rescue Party, after their meeting in Senate headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, July 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Prime Minister Hun Sen has softened his stance on the opposition, civil society and the media in recent weeks following pressure from the international community.

As Cambodia’s parliament considers a proposed law change that could see more than 100 former opposition officials allowed to return to political life, Sam Rainsy, a founder of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, has labeled the move a “trick.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party has softened its stance on the opposition, civil society and the media in recent weeks following pressure from the international community.

“Now, the situation is changing slightly because Hun Sen has got stronger international pressure. So he has to show his gesture to show that he is relieved to ease the situation,” Rainsy told the Hello VOA program on Thursday.

“But I would like to tell my compatriots that this is Hun Sen’s trick, because his intention is two-fold: the first objective is to avoid international sanctions, and the second objective is he wants to split the CNRP,” he said, referring to the party he co-founded in 2012, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

“But I would like to tell Mr. Hun Sen that both intentions will fail,” he added. “We need Mr. Hun Sen to release Kem Sokha immediately, unconditionally, and for Mr. Kem Sokha to return to politics. The CNRP has to drop all the accusations of treason against Kem Sokha. As long as the treason charges have not been dropped, no one should believe in Hun Sen.”

Cambodia’s National Assembly is considering a bill that could pave the way for 118 CNRP politicians to return to political life after the party was banned in November 2017. Sokha was arrested a month earlier on treason charges and is currently being detained under house arrest.

Additionally, the government has suggested that pressure on civil society groups, unions, and shuttered media outlets such as the Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia could also be eased.

In October, the European Union gave Cambodia one year to initiate reforms or face being suspended from a preferential trading scheme that guarantees Cambodian goods duty-free access to E.U. markets.

Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, an election monitoring group, said the future was still unpredictable due to a lack of checks and balances in the new de facto one-party system.

“This is a very difficult issue, as state institutions are not independent, especially democratic institutions need to be stronger in controlling and checking the enforcement of existing laws,” he said. “There are still a lot of unresolved issues.

Sar Kheng, an interior minister, said last week that the government was continuing to work to “strengthen multi-party democracy, respect for human rights in Cambodia, better economic development, society, improved living conditions for our people, to build the country’s growth.”

He denied that the new law to allow the 118 CNRP politicians to return to political life was being considered because of external pressure.

Pon Saory, a CNRP spokesman, said U.S. officials had also indicated that they would consider new sanctions against Hun Sen’s administration.

Nhim Kim Nhol, one of the 118 banned CNRP politicians, said the dropping of treason charges against Sokha and Rainsy were the most important steps the government should take to ease the tensions.

Last week, Rainsy declared he would assume the acting leadership role of the party while Sokha remains under house arrest, a decision that was rejected by Sokha supporters.