Cambodia assures US that political deadlock will end soon

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2016 5:03 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's foreign minister assured the United States on Thursday that the political deadlock in the country will ease soon since opposition lawmakers have agreed to end their boycott of the parliament and attend its upcoming plenary session.  

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn made the assurance during a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel R. Russel who is on an Asia visit.

Prak Sokhonn informed Russel of the positive development in the political situation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounary told reporters after the meeting.   

He said the minister also hopes Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party will also resume talks soon to end political tensions.

Relations between the sides deteriorated last year after the opposition tried to exploit a volatile issue by accusing neighboring Vietnam, with which Hun Sen's government maintains good relations, of land encroachment. The move proved politically popular, and the government reacted by stepping up intimidation of the opposition party in the courts, which are seen as being under its influence.

The opposition stopped attending parliamentary sessions about four months ago after ruling party lawmakers stripped some opposition lawmakers of their legal immunity, leaving them open to lawsuits. The party said Wednesday its members would rejoin the session. It is expected soon but no date has been set.

Critics say Hun Sen is manipulating the courts to weaken the opposition's chances in next year's local polls and 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.

On Oct. 10, a court sentenced opposition lawmaker Um Sam An, who has been a strong critic of the government's handling of demarcating the border with Vietnam, to 2 1/2 years in prison for online postings he made.

Last month, the deputy leader of the opposition, Kem Sokha, to five months in prison for twice ignoring a summons to answer questions related to a case involving his alleged mistress.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has remained abroad since November when an old conviction for defamation was restored and his parliamentary immunity was stripped by the government's legislative majority.

Hun Sen's party has often been accused in the past of using violence or the threat of violence against opponents, but in recent years has stalked its foes mostly in the courts.