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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen offers rare judicial concession

Hun Sen offers rare judicial concession

IN a major concession to prominent opposition politician Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen agreed

to seek a Royal pardon for a Rainsy loyalist convicted of killing the Second Prime

Minister's brother-in-law.

After King Norodom Sihanouk and Rainsy had brought up the issue, Hun Sen wrote in

a Jan 2 letter to the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) leader that he would formally ask

the King for a pardon for Srun Vong Vannak and two alleged co-conspirators.

Hun Sen's letter indicated that a deal over Vannak had been struck when he and his

former nemesis Rainsy met in an unprecedented three-hour meeting Dec 8.

"As I informed Your Excellency when last we met, I have been ready to prepare

my request for a pardon since the day after my brother-in-law was murdered, which

I announced on the television and radio," Hun Sen wrote. "Please inform

the family of the convicted that I still intend to keep my promise and I will do

everything without delay to make a proposal to His Majesty the King."

Six days earlier, King Sihanouk had written to Minister of Justice Chem Snguon saying:

"I have received a letter from [the parents] of Srun Vong Vannak which requested

a pardon for their son... I would like to refer the above-mentioned letter [to you

and I ask you] to please forward it to Samdech Hun Sen for his opinion on the subject."

While the Constitution grants the King the unilateral right to grant pardons, the

monarch has never done so on a politically-charged case without Hun Sen's agreement,

effectively giving the Second Prime Minister a veto over amnesties.

Prospects for a pardon for Vannak seemed to improve after a more-tempered Sam Rainsy

returned to Cambodia on November 27, after months in self-exile. In a Dec 1 interview,

Rainsy said: "I talked to people who came to talk in the name of the CPP. They

said that if I continued to use a moderate tone, I would have things without making

war. I think I will obtain freedom for Srun Vong Vannak."

One week later Rainsy's attempts at constructive engagement reached a high point

with his meeting with Hun Sen, in which he expressed a willingness to work with the

government if it proved productive.

The expected pardon for Vannak alleged accomplices Prum Mean Rith and Sos Kasem comes

as their appeal of their convictions was due to be heard by the Court of Appeal soon.

Lawyers for the trio were expected to put forward new evidence to the Court of Appeal,

in their bid to have the convictions overturned. While in prison, Kasem and Mean

Rith - who are both reportedly suffering from AIDS - have, in letters to politicians

and others, recanted their previous testimony against Vannak.

Pardons for the three men will also presumably put an end to a long-running saga

which has highlighted alleged government manipulation of the courts against political

opponents.

One diplomat in Phnom Penh noted that "the case seemed to be heading toward

some sort of crisis and [the pardons may] defuse it. It's a good sign."

Hun Sen's brother-in-law Kov Samuth was gunned down on a Phnom Penh street on Nov

19, 1996. Hun Sen claimed on national television that the killing was a KNP plot

to intimidate alleged Khmer Rouge "urban defectors" who defected to the

government.

At the time, Hun Sen promised to pardon the perpetrators of the crime, saying that

he wanted to catch the mastermind behind the assassination - which many observers

took to mean that Cambodia's police and courts would go after Rainsy.

Vannak, the KNP security chief, was arrested by Phnom Penh police chief Mok Chito,

a CPP member, in February 1997. Vannak has said that he was handcuffed, blindfolded,

interrogated and threatened while being held in hotels and an apartment for 17 days.

He confessed to arranging Samuth's murder.

Vannak recanted that confession during his Sept 9 trial. He, along with Mean Rith

and Kasem, were convicted of conspiracy to murder in a trial labeled a "farce"

by independent legal observers and human rights workers. Mean Rith was sentenced

to 10 years in jail, Vannak to 13 years and Kasem - the alleged trigger man - to

15 years.

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