Cambodian opposition leader temporarily leaves refuge

AP News
Posted: Oct 05, 2016 6:03 AM
Cambodian opposition leader temporarily leaves refuge

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's acting opposition leader briefly left the party headquarters where he took refuge from arrest four months ago and was able to register to vote in next year's elections without incident Wednesday.

His move followed several other signs of an easing of the feuding between the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. After Prime Minister Hun Sen offered some conciliatory messages, the opposition agreed to end a boycott of parliament that it instituted after legal harassment of its lawmakers.

Kem Sokha was recently sentenced to six months in prison for refusing to honor a court summons to testify in connection with a sex scandal in which he is involved. He contends the legal actions are part of a government plot to cripple the opposition party. His lawyers filed an appeal Wednesday against his conviction.

He is the party's acting leader because party president Sam Rainsy is in self-imposed exile to avoid serving a prison term on a defamation charge he contests.

Critics say Hun Sen is manipulating the courts to weaken the opposition's challenge to his ruling party in next year's local polls, as well as the 2018 general election. The opposition made an unexpectedly strong showing in the 2013 general election, which it claimed it was cheated out of winning.

Kem Sokha is shielded from arrest by a phalanx of party supporters who also stay at the headquarters. Around 400 of them were there Wednesday morning, where he greeted them before driving to the registration office about 2 kilometers (1 mile) away.

He gave them a short speech upon his return, telling the crowd his party wants to see the political atmosphere return to normal, with free and fair elections that reflect the will of the people. He said his party would pursue that goal with non-violence.