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Cambodia to Ease Restrictions on Opposition as EU Considers Trade Relationship


A man rides a motorcycle past the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

In a statement on Monday, the foreign ministry said: “In order to further promote democracy and the rule of law, the National Assembly is reviewing legal provisions to enable individuals who were banned from politics to resume their political activities.”

Cambodia has said that banned members of the country’s main opposition force may be allowed to return to politics and closed media outlets will be allowed to reopen.

Dozens of journalists, activists, government critics and members of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party have been released from jail since Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won a landslide election victory in July after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP last year.

The move is thought to be a response to the European Union’s threats of removing Cambodia from a preferential trade scheme that the country’s garment industry, Cambodia’s largest formal employer, relies on for a large portion of its exports.

Previous concessions offered by Hun Sen have not deterred the E.U. from threatening to suspend the trade benefits Cambodia enjoys.

In a statement on Monday, the foreign ministry said: “In order to further promote democracy and the rule of law, the National Assembly is reviewing legal provisions to enable individuals who were banned from politics to resume their political activities.”

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

The move could see some 118 CNRP politicians allowed to return to politics following the ban imposed by the courts in November 2017.

Kem Sokha, the leader of the banned CNRP, is currently under house arrest awaiting trial on treason charges.

In October, the E.U. gave Cambodia 12 months to improve its democratic and human rights record before the suspension from the trading scheme would come into effect.

George Edgar, E.U. ambassador to Cambodia, could not be reached for comment.

Lao Monghay, an independent political analyst, said without the release of Sokha the E.U. was unlikely to accept the concessions offered by Phnom Penh.

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