02/04/2005, 00.00
Cambodia
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Fleeing Cambodian opposition leader heads for Paris

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy headed for Paris a day after fleeing Cambodia following a parliamentary vote to strip him of his immunity from prosecution, senior officials said on Friday.

Sam Rainsy has often spoken of Hun Sen's human rights violations. In particular, he has filed a lawsuit in which he accuses the iron-fist Prime Minister of masterminding a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally that killed at least 16 people. Sam Rainsy fled the country yesterday and one of his deputies was arrested after their parliamentary immunity was revoked, allowing Prime Minister Hun Sen to prosecute them for defamation. Deputy Cheam Channy was arrested and taken to a military court, a party spokesman said.

The government has accused Cheam Channy of building an army as part of a coup plot. But all analysts dismissed the claim as extremely unlikely. Prime Minister Hun Sen has a strict control of the army and the police forces. Through family links he also controls the media and the economy.

Earlier, parliament had voted to strike down rules protecting the two men and a third politician from prosecution, clearing the way for the three to face charges. Hun Sen said parliament's decision to lift the immunity did not mean they would be convicted. "Withdrawing their immunity does not mean they will be convicted, but it opens the way for the courts to proceed with the case following legal procedures," he said. Sam Rainsy party called instead the parliamentary vote "a sad day for democracy in Cambodia". Rainsy is planning to ask king Norodom Sihamoni to intervene.

Sam Rainsy landed first in Thailand via Singapore. But Thai authorities rejected his entry as his presence "would put Thailand in an awkward position". Thailand is the first commercial partner of Cambodia.

Corruption, bureaucracy inefficiencies, illegal land requisition are widespread in the country. Many sector of the international community and the local population accuse Hun Sen of being responsible of all these problems.

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