Cambodia: Political deadlock will ease soon, minister tells the US
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Cambodia: Political deadlock will ease soon, minister tells the US

CAMBODIA’S political deadlock is expected to ease soon as opposition lawmakers have agreed to end their boycott of the Parliament and attend its upcoming plenary session, its foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister Prak Sokonn made the the assurance Thursday when he met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel R. Russel.

Russel said he hopes Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) will also resume talks soon to end political tensions.

Amid deteriorating relations between the two sides last year, Hun Sen stepped up intimidation of the opposition party in the courts.

Rights groups said Hun Sen and other leaders of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), including those in the armed forces and police, have over the last year made a series of increasingly dire public threats against the opposition. Cambodia is due to hold its elections in 2018.

SEE ALSO: US urges Cambodian government to resume talks with opposition 

Opposition lawmakers stopped attending parliamentary sessions about four months ago but on Wednesday, the party said its members will rejoin the National Assembly.

The CNRP’s agreement to attend Parliament, though, does not appear to be done out of its own volition as on Wednesday, Hun Sen announced plans to cut the salaries of the opposition lawmakers who did not attend the National Assembly.

According to Radio Free Asia, CPP officials lauded the move, saying it assured accountability.

“The sanction is meant to hold lawmakers accountable before their constituents,” was quoted as saying CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun.

“It is to let people see that no one is spared from going unpunished regardless of his parliamentary status if he abuses the rules.”

SEE ALSO: Cambodian opposition lawmaker jailed 2 years, 6 months over Facebook posts 

However, the CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said the move was unnecessary.

“I take it as a redundancy,” Yem said. “The current National Assembly’s regulations are comprehensive enough for the assembly’s Standing Committee and the general secretariat of the National Assembly to apply.”

The CNRP has been using the boycott as its favorite bargaining chip as it promoted their cause and pressured Hun Sen to the negotiating table.

The opposition began its latest boycott in October last year when CNRP leader Kem Sokha was ousted as first vice president of the National Assembly in a CPP vote and the reported assault on two CNRP lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called on the Cambodian government to rescind its order banning the return of exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy following a directive issued by Hun Sen on Oct 12.

The directive, among others, instructed airlines flying to Cambodia to refuse taking Rainsy as a passenger.

SEE ALSO: Cambodia poised to arrest opposition leader Sam Rainsy; violence feared

“The official exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy is just the latest effort by Cambodia’s ruling party to win the next national elections – by ensuring they have no real competition,” HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement.

“Cambodia’s donors and ASEAN members should urgently and publicly call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to end his political persecution of the opposition.”

In the directive, the government also threatened to order any plane carrying Rainsy to return to its point of origin and said it would arrest the leader if he arrived in the country.

“The actions against Sam Rainsy again expose Hun Sen’s intention to return Cambodia to a de facto one-party state, with little room for critical or opposition voices,” Adams said.

He said the government’s criminal cases against Rainsy, the longtime leader of the CNRP, were politically motivated, forcing him to seek exile to avoid persecution.

“The government has also carried out many arbitrary arrests and detentions of opposition members of the National Assembly and Senate, opposition party activists, and members of civil society groups, including staff of the internationally respected Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press