UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday issued a statement calling for dialogue and negotiations between the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The statement follows similar calls from the United States and the European Union.
Security forces have attempted to arrest the CNRP’s acting president, Kem Sokha, in recent days amid ongoing attempts by the municipal court to bring him in for questioning over allegations of solicitation and ignoring previous court subpoenas.
The call from Mr. Ban came on the heels of a period of political tension between Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party and opposition.
"His evaluation and concerns about human rights and other issues in Cambodia is not reflective of the reality in Cambodian society."
In recent months, at least 20 members of local civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and members and supporters of the CNRP were imprisoned on charges ranging from incitement to bribery.
Ban made the comments during a phone conversation with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, a summary of which was later posted to a U.N. website on Wednesday.
The summary said that Ban had “expressed concern” about the breakdown in relations between the two parties and the jailing of dissenters.
“The Secretary-General conveyed his hope that the Government of Cambodia would ensure full respect for human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly,” read the statement. “He called for the resumption of the culture of dialogue between the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party.”
Both the CPP and CNRP on Thursday welcomed the statement.
“His call is good for Cambodia, to be in peace and harmony,” Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling party, told VOA Khmer. “However, his evaluation and concerns about human rights and other issues in Cambodia is not reflective of the reality in Cambodian society. All the problems occur because members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party themselves violated the law.”
Eysan added that the CPP and CNRP’s working groups, which were established in 2015, are already in discussions over when a meeting between the parties should be held and the agenda of the talks.
“Therefore, I think, it will happen very soon, our parties’ working groups will meet to strengthen the culture of dialogue. And it is complying with the request made by His Excellency Ban Ki-moon,” Mr. Eysan said.
Yim Sovann, a CNRP lawmaker and spokesman, said the next meeting of the CNRP and CPP should focus on “the violation of lawmakers’ immunity, jailing of opposition party activists and civil society members and [an election official].”
“These issues should be discussed,” he said.
However, the ruling party has previously said a pre-condition of new talks would be that those topics were off the table.
Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, an election monitoring group, said a breakdown in communication and the self-exile of CNRP president Sam Rainsy had created a deadlocked situation.
“It is obvious that the lower level of dialogue – the third level, the working group – will find it hard to make any majority decision to resolve political issues, including the violations of political rights, usage of court to jail lawmakers, and violence against opposition lawmakers,” he said.
The ruling party should seek a “political compromise”, he added, which should include a pardon for Rainsy, who is wanted to serve a two-year prison term for defamation.