The political parties of Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have agreed to hold high-level talks this week in a bid to end the country's worsening political crisis following violent protests last week that led to the arrest of seven opposition lawmakers.
A joint statement by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said the "top level" meeting on Tuesday was to bring about a "comprehensive settlement of Cambodia's political crisis," which had dragged on for a year after disputed general elections.
The statement was issued late Sunday "in order to defuse political tension and to achieve national reconciliation," Sam Rainsy said in a Facebook post.
He likened the meeting on Tuesday to "final talks" between the two parties based on an agreement in principle reached between Hun Sen and him on April 9.
The agreement, he said, was to establish a new constitutionally mandated national election body with the approval of the two parties and to hold the next commune elections in February 2017 and next general elections in February 2018.
The CNRP and CPP have been holding talks to break the political deadlock since the July 2013 general elections, which the opposition claims was rigged in favor of Hun Sen's party.
The discussions broke down after the CNRP, which has boycotted parliament, demanded that all members of the National Election Committee, the country's election body, be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Sam Rainsy, who returned home to a rousing welcome from party supporters on Saturday after cutting short his European trip, criticized the government's arrest of the seven MP’s and another member from his CNRP following violent protests outside Freedom Park in the capital Phnom Penh last Tuesday.
The protests were held by CNRP supporters in a bid to push for the opening of the park, which was closed by the government in January after it became a focal point for protests against Hun Sen’s rule in the wake of the disputed polls.
At least 40 people were injured in last Tuesday's protests, which turned violent when security personnel guarding the park tried to pull down a banner hung by the opposition calling on the government to reopen the park, the only place where political protests are authorized in the capital.
Sam Rainsy said that the arrest of the eight party leaders has deepened the political crisis to levels unseen since the 1997 bloody coup in which Hun Sen ousted prime minister Prince Ranariddh.The eight have been detained indefinitely pending trial on charges, including insurrection, which carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
The United Nation's human rights office has criticized the arrests and said it is “concerned about the very serious charges” brought against the eight.
Sam Rainsy said he has launched a petition to demand the release of the eight party leaders.
"We are asking Cambodia's aid donors to demand that Hun Sen's government drop the cases [against them]," he said.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.