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UN Envoy Warns of Potential Political Violence in Cambodia

Rhona Smith, left, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, poses with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, for a photo during a meeting at Peace Palace, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Rhona on Monday met Hun Sen for her first mission to Cambodia after she replaced her predecessor Surya Prasad Subedi. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith called on leaders of the CPP and CNRP to restart political talks, following the ouster of opposition leader Sam Rainsy from parliament earlier this month.

The UN human rights envoy to Cambodia says the country’s political tensions are nearing “a dangerous tipping point” that could lead to violence in the future.

In a statement released Monday, Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith called on leaders of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party to restart political talks, following the ouster of opposition leader Sam Rainsy from parliament earlier this month.

“The past weeks have been marked by a number of worrying developments: increasing tensions between the two principal political parties; incidences of violence; intimidation of individuals; and resort to offensive language in the political discourse,” Smith said. “Any intensification of current events could bring Cambodia to a dangerous tipping point.”

Smith urged Cambodia’s “elected leaders” to act responsibly in the interest of their constituents.

She added the elected leaders should use their power to act responsibly and for the interests of voters. “Rather than resorting to divisive language and fueling racist sentiments, political leaders have a responsibility to act to safeguard national peace and public order,” she said.

The statement follows an increase in political strife over the last few weeks, in which the opposition has seen two lawmakers severely beaten by masked men following anti-opposition protests, as well as the ouster of Sam Rainsy from parliament and of Kem Sokha from his seat as National Assembly vice president. US officials too have said they fear the political climate could escalate into violence, as well as jeopardize free and fair elections in 2017 and 2018.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan thanked Smith for her “good will,” but said political dialogue does not carry into the work of the judiciary. Sam Rainsy’s arrest warrant is the result of a criminal defamation complaint made by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, a matter that Sok Eysan said was “a personal issue” between the two men.

Sok Eysan dismissed concerns of impending violence. “It’s not dangerous,” he said. “It’s fine. It’s not going to erupt like a Philippines volcano.”

Meanwhile, Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha returned to Cambodia Tuesday, following meetings with Sam Rainsy, who remains abroad. Kem Sokha told reporters on his arrival that the Rescue Party would seek more dialogue with the CPP in a bid to ease tensions. He returned with Rescue Party lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, who were being treated in Bangkok after their assaults last month.

“As we know so far, the situation is worse, but we need to resolve to improve it—to improve it we need to sit down and talk,” Kem Sokha said. “However, justice for the lawmakers who were beaten must be provided.”