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Opposition Still Hopeful After Hun Sen Speech

Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Prime Minister Hun Sen.

An official for the Sam Rainsy Party says that recent rhetoric about the opposition in a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen may signal a willingness to find a political solution to the exile of the country’s main opposition leader.

Cambodia is gearing up for local elections in 2012 and parliamentary elections the year after, but the Sam Rainsy Party has been operating with its leader abroad and facing criminal charges he says are political.

Hun Sen has previously said he will not broker a compromise to bring Sam Rainsy back, but Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said Thursday that a speech the premier gave earlier this week may signal a shift in that position.

He noted that Hun Sen had told students at a graduation ceremony on Monday that Cambodians must solve their problems peacefully, among Cambodians.

“We must talk mutually,” he said, “which is better than chopping and stabbing.”

“Each country must have democracy, pluralism, and allow the establishment of parties, give the to set up NGOs and to have press freedom,” he said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy remains in self-imposed exile and is facing 12 years in prison on charges he says are political if he returns.

Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said Sam Rainsy’s return ahead of elections could be possible.

“So far there has been tolerance and forgiveness from [Prime Minister] Hun Sen, who has been sympathetic,” he said.

However, he noted, Sam Rainsy is now engaged in a campaign to file charges against Hun Sen in international courts.

Sam Rainsy has said he considers military campaigns led by Hun Sen in the 1980s led to unnecessary deaths of civilians near the Thai border, as government troops fought the Khmer Rouge.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said he hoped Sam Rainsy will be allowed to return, which would signal a type of “maturity” in Cambodia’s democratic system.

“This is the process of a good culture, or good behavior, for politicians to compromise and mutually and politically forgive each other,” he said.

He added that the charges against Sam Rainsy—linked to his uprooting of border markers near Vietnam in 2009—are not serious and can likely be ironed out.