Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cambodia opposition boycott ends

The main opposition party in Cambodia, led by Sam Rainsy, has put an end to a six-month parliamentary boycott.

The opposition began the protest in February after Mr Rainsy and two of his MPS were stripped of their immunity, accused of a range of crimes.

One of the MPs was later arrested and jailed. Mr Rainsy is living in exile.
On Monday, 16 of the party's 24 members resumed their seats in the National Assembly, saying they had to speak out against corruption and other issues.

"We felt compelled to return to the parliament to use its forum to speak in defence of the people's interests," opposition MP Yim Sovann said.

"We are not giving in to any pressure."

But the BBC correspondent in Phnom Penh, Guy De Launey, says there are other reasons for the opposition's return.

They hope they might be able to exert some influence over the long awaited anti-corruption legislation, he says.

The move also paves the way for Sam Rainsy himself to return to Cambodia, possibly as early as next month.

His party says it has not made any deals with the government, but hopes the move will be treated as a gesture of goodwill.

The government has welcomed the end of the boycott. Without the opposition parliamentarians, the National Assembly has struggled to reach a quorum on many issues, resulting in a backlog of business.

Controversial trial

Sam Rainsy is facing defamation charges, stemming from his claims that the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen had plotted to kill opponents and that coalition partner Prince Ranariddh took bribes to join the government.

Mr Rainsy and fellow opposition MP Chea Poch fled the country in February after their immunity was lifted.

Mr Poch returned home last week, saying he did not fear arrest.

The other MP who lost his immunity, Cheam Channy, was arrested in February and is serving a seven-year sentence for allegedly trying to recruit an armed group.

Human rights activists have criticised his trial, seeing it as a move by the government to stifle political dissent.


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