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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - International pressure mounts, slowly, over Rainsy

International pressure mounts, slowly, over Rainsy

T HE United Nations Secretary-General has refused to offer a legal opinion on Sam

Rainsy's position in the National Assembly, as foreign governments also shy away

from publicly supporting the embattled MP.

But support for the dissident,

who has appealed for foreign help to stay an MP, is mounting in some areas of

the international community.

While UN Secretary-General Boutros

Boutros-Ghali has told Rainsy he cannot get involved, Boutros-Ghali's Special

Representative on Human Rights in Cambodia - Australian judge Michael Kirby - is

considering doing so.

Kirby is understood to have instructed his staff to

prepare a letter to National Assembly president Chea Sim, opposing any bid to

oust Rainsy as an MP.

The letter is expected to question the legality of

any expulsion of Rainsy, and to express concern that such a move could be viewed

as a government bid to silence critics.

Boutros-Ghali, in response to a

request from Rainsy for a legal opinion, sent a message to him saying: "It is

the Secretary-General's considered opinion that the question of Mr Rainsy's

legal status in the National Assembly is strictly an internal matter and

therefore he cannot become involved."

Foreign governments with close

relations to Cambodia are taking a similar line, but are following events

closely.

A French Embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh said this week that his

government had no official position on Rainsy's situation because "we don't

interfere with political parties' affairs".

An Australian Embassy

spokesman said: "The Sam Rainsy issue is a domestic political issue for Cambodia

and not one in which our involvement would be appropriate at this

stage."

Asked whether the words "at this stage" implied Australia's

position could change, he said: "I would prefer to let the message speak for

itself."

A United States Embassy official said whether Rainsy could

legally be sacked as an MP was an "internal matter" for Cambodia.

"What

we do feel strongly about is that everyone should have the right to speak freely

without harassment. The airing of opposition views is part of a

democracy.

"But with respect to the specific case of Rainsy, it's an

internal matter," he said.

However, US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has

given a veiled warning that expulsion of Rainsy could affect trade or aid to the

Kingdom.

"In seeking to silence the opposition, those now in power will

ultimately weaken their own legitimacy, strengthen Cambodia's proven enemies and

make it more difficult for friends of Cambodia, like the United States, to

engage in trade or offer assistance." Rohrabacher wrote in a May 24 letter to

Rainsy.

Rohrabacher, on a visit to Cambodia in April, spoke of Cambodia's

prospects of being granted the US most favored nation trading status it has

sought.

In his letter to Rainsy, he wrote: "If you are removed,

Cambodia's democratic development may be called into question.

"It

appears that the intent may not be just to silence you, but to intimidate the

entire leadership of the democratic opposition."

Meanwhile, the

Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union - an organization of 135 member

parliaments - has written to Chea Sim, the assembly president.

The letter

sought his response to a complaint, which the union's human rights committee

planned to discuss, about Rainsy's attempted expulsion from Funcinpec and the

assembly.

Rainsy, who maintains that his expulsion as an MP would be

unconstitutional and illegal, told the Post that "support from international

authorities to help Cambodia abide by the law is crucial to resist this

move".

He said he was "a little bit" disappointed at Boutros Boutros-

Ghali's failure to give an opinion on the legal issues.

"The UN organized

the elections. The UN drafted the electoral law. So who can the Cambodian people

rely on for an independent legal opinion - only those who drafted the

law."

Rainsy said he had written to Boutros-Ghali at the suggestion of

King Norodom Sihanouk, who had said only UN officials could give such an

opinion.

"Who can I rely on?" Rainsy said. "Everybody is throwing the

issue at other people. Who will catch it?"

In Cambodia, Rainsy is

counting on the support of Funcinpec General-Secretary Prince Norodom Sirivudh,

who has been in France, where his mother recently died. "I think he will contest

my expulsion from Funcinpec," Rainsy said of Sirivudh, who was expected to

return to Cambodia late this week.

Also returning from a French visit is

party president and First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh - who has led

the fight against Rainsy.

Formal confirmation of long-expected moves to

expel Rainsy from the Funcinpec political party - and his seat at the National

Assembly as a Siem Reap MP - came on May 22.

Funcinpec Deputy General

Secretary Kauv Mean Hean announced that a decision to oust Rainsy from the party

was made at a May 13 meeting of Funcinpec's steering committee.

Within

days, a letter from Ranariddh to National Assembly president Chea Sim became

public. Apparently sent twice, the first time undated and the second dated May

22, the letter informed Sim that Rainsy had "ceased being a member of the

Funcinpec party".

The letter asked Sim to appoint Nou Saingkhorn, the

next person listed on Funcinpec's Siem Reap election candidacy list, as Rainsy's

replacement.

As legal grounds for the expulsion, Ranariddh cited the 1991

Paris Peace Agreement, the 1992 UNTAC electoral law and the National Assembly's

internal regulations.

But Rainsy - and an anonymous "group of lawyers"

who have circulated a legal opinion around Phnom Penh - argues that expelling an

MP is illegal.

Some sources acknowledge that there is room for

disagreement over the legal situation.

According to the Paris Peace

Accords, "party affiliation" is required for candidates to stand for election.

Whether that means those elected have to remain in their parties is

unclear.

The UNTAC electoral law which governed the elections, and which

has not been annulled, says an MP who "dies or resigns or otherwise becomes

unable to serve" should be replaced by the next person on their party's original

candidacy list.

The National Assembly's internal regulations, meanwhile,

only refer to MPs being replaced if they die, resign or abandon their work for

three months.

There is confusion over what Cambodia's constitution says

on the issue. The constitution's official English translation refers to MPs

being replaced in cases of "death, resignation or dismissal".

Legal

observers, however, say the translation from Khmer is incorrect, and that

"dismissal" should in fact read "departure". They acknowledge "departure" is not

defined.

The UN Secretary-General's representative in Cambodia, Benny

Widyono, said no UN law opinion could be given unless requested by the

government or the National Assembly.

Rainsy, meanwhile, has filed a suit

in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court arguing his sacking from Funcinpec is illegal

- a bid to prevent any decision on his expulsion from Parliament until the court

gives a verdict.

Rainsy said his expulsion from Funcinpec was decided at

a meeting of 10 out of the party's 20-member steering committee. Of those who

attended, only five - including Ranariddh - voted for the

expulsion.

Rainsy said he believed he had "more support than you can

imagine" within the 120-member National Assembly.

If he was expelled, so

could any other MPs who ever had difficulties with their parties, and "one day

[Second Prime Minister] Hun Sen can be expelled by Chea Sim".

Vowing

never to leave the assembly under pressure, he said if he were officially

replaced, "there will be 121 MPs in Parliament... and I will sit on a portion of

my seat".

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