02/06/2006, 00.00
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Cambodia: Member of the parliamentary opposition freed from prison

Cheam Channy was freed today, after receiving clemency from King Sihamoni. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is also pardoned, giving fresh hope to a greater respect for civil rights.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Member of parliament Cheam Channy left prision today, after receiving a royal pardon yesterday.  The gesture seems to be an attempt to reduce tension premier Hun Sen and the opposition.

Over 200 supporters gathered outside the prison to welcome Cheam Channy, who was condemned in August to 7 years on charges of fraud and conspiracy against the government, following a trial that international observers described as dubious.  He was in prison since February 2005, following the suspension of a parliamentary immunity, suspended also in the cases of oppositionleader Sam Rainsy and fellow party member Chea Poch. Last week, king Norodom Sihamoni, in a unexpected move accepted Hun Sen request for clemency and pardoned both Channy and Rainsy.

Sam Rainsy is in voluntary exile in France from where he was condemned to 18 months imprisonment December last for defamation of Hun Sen and prince Norodom Ranariddh, parliament president.  Rainsy was pardoned after officially excusing himself with Hun Sen On February 3rd  for having accused him of involvement in the 1997 bomb attack, which killed members of his party.  Rainsy has also mended relations with prince Ranariddh, who he had accused of corruption and it is believed that he will return to Cambodia within the week.  

"Cheam Channy release – commented Kong Korm, director Sam Rainsy's executive party – is a very important step in allowing the country's leaders to work together for the benefit of the nation and its' people ".

The reconciliation between the two rivals is also important in so far as it may indicate the beginning of a new relationship between the opposition parties and Hun Sen.   The premier is said to have expressed the wish that Rainsy will re start his political activities in Cambodia and has also recently acted in favour of the country's democratic movements.  On February 3rd he renounced accusations of defamation against 7 activists, who had accused him of selling national territory to Vietnam.

Many experts consider this an attempt to gain the favour of international donors, who are due to meet in coming months to discuss the donation of millions of dollars to the King, after he heavy criticism of government civil rights abuse in recent weeks. (PB)


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