Cambodia restores immunity to opposition leader | india | Hindustan Times
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Cambodia restores immunity to opposition leader

Cambodia's parliament has restored the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday, in what he called a triumph for national reconciliation.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 14:50 IST
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Cambodia's parliament has restored the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday, in what he called a triumph for national reconciliation. "It shows that the spirit of national reconciliation and national unity has prevailed and I am sure this spirit will continue to prevail for the good of the country," said Rainsy, justreturned from self-exile in France.

He was sentenced to 18 months in jail in absentia, on charges of criminal defamation brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who has ruled impoverished Cambodia for two decades.

The legislature also restored immunity to opposition members Cheam Channy, sentenced to 7 years in jail after being found guilty of forming an illegal armed group, and Chea Poch, who fled to the United States to avoid arrest.

Those cases, and others, drew fiery criticism from foreign aid donors led by the United States and human rights groups who accused Hun Sen of using the law to crush opposition.

But Hun Sen patched up his differences with them earlier this month. Sam Rainsy returned from Paris and the two men promised to work together to draw the country, which suffered 30 years of civil war and the murderous Khmer Rouge, out of poverty.

"Today is very good day for Cambodia's democracy," U.S. diplomat Mark Storella said after watching the legislature vote trestore the parliamentary immunity of the three men.

However, some rights groups noted that the reconciliation came shortly before an annual donors' meeting on March 2 and 3 which is expected to promise Cambodia $600 million in aid.

"Donors should not be lulled into thinking the situation has improved," the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said.

"This is a decade-old pattern: assurances by the government right before the donor meetings, followed by a return to the old ways afterward."

Hun Sen denied the timing of his reconciliation with Sam Rainsy had anything to do with the donors meeting.

"We did not do this to satisfy any one. We did it to satisfy our people," he said. "With this move we have received support from Cambodia's friends who want to help us. So any foreign aid for Cambodia is a celebration for the Cambodian people."