Cambodia's Opposition Seeks to Reinstate 'Culture of Dialogue'

Cambodian Court Orders Kem Sokha to Stay in the Country Cambodian Buddhist monks sit next to the body of independent political and social analyst Kem Ley as he is transported from the scene of his murder, July 10, 2016.

The leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are toning down their rhetoric as they hope to restart the “culture of dialogue” with Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), a senior CNRP official told RFA’s Khmer Service.

After visiting 15 jailed opposition party activists on Monday, CNRP lawmaker Pol Ham told RFA that his party is following the advice of the U.N. and other international organizations that have pushed for a rapprochement.

“The CNRP is not under any pressure from the international community, except the recommendation from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who wanted both parties to return to the negotiating table,” Pol Ham said. “The European Community, the U.S., and several foreign diplomats would like us to resume our dialogue. The CNRP has been consistent in our desire to resume the dialogue.”

It’s unclear if the CNRP will be successful as the CPP has failed to respond to the overtures. The CPP controls the courts and law enforcement agencies that have been jailing the opposition on what independent analysts say are flimsy charges.

The culture of dialogue was the name given to the shaky truce Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy formed to bring an end to the months-long political standoff that came amid the bloody aftermath of the 2013 elections.

Pol Ham told RFA that failure to restart the culture of dialogue lies at the feet of Hun Sen and the CPP.

“We are not at fault if there is no dialogue,” he said. “We have fulfilled the will of our fellow Cambodians and the international community.”

Pol Ham’s words come as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski visits Cambodia.

Malinowski was scheduled to discuss the importance of human rights, free and fair elections, labor rights, and the need to uphold international human rights standards regarding the protection of civil society.

His visit comes after government critic Kem Ley was gunned down on July 10 at a convenience store that he stopped at to talk with friends. Just days before, he’d discussed a report by the British NGO Global Witness detailing the extent of the Hun Sen family’s wealth.

A Cambodian court charged a former soldier named Oeuth Ang with premeditated murder on Wednesday for the execution-style killing. Authorities have said that Kem Ley was killed over an outstanding $3,000 debt to Oueth Ang, but many in Cambodia question that explanation.

A pair of witnesses to the crime are seeking asylum in a third country because they fear for their safety, one of the witnesses told RFA.

Chum Huor and Chum Huot, twins who were close to Kem Ley, became afraid after they posted criticisms about the investigation on their Facebook pages and gave accounts of Kem Ley’s murder to the U.S. embassy.

They filed their application for asylum with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee, Chum Huot said.

Reported by Chandara Yang and Sarada Taing for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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