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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King abandons mass amnesty request

King abandons mass amnesty request

K ING Norodom Sihanouk retreated from granting a mass amnesty to "all but the

most dangerous of criminals" held in Cambodia's rudimentary jails because he

claims the issue had become tainted with politics.

A statement dated October 26 explaining the King's change of heart referred pointedly

to Prince Norodom Sirivudh who was exiled late last year after being accused of plotting

to kill Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"As for my brother Norodom Sirivudh, I didn't request for any prerogative from

the Royal Government...," an unofficial translation of the statement read, fueling

speculation that Sirivudh's return to Cambodia was perceived linked to the mass amnesty

and continues to be blocked by powerful elements within the Cambodian People's Party

(CPP).

"There was a group of students and politicians expressing their criticism towards

me...[and] I have no intention to fight, in political affairs, with any group,"

the King's statement read.

"...I, today, withdraw the request for liberation of those prisoners... I let

the Royal Government continue to keep them in prisons according to the desire of

some compatriots."

In an October 18 statement, the King requested that the "most horrible and ignominious

jails" be destroyed and announced he would order the release of the "greatest

number of prisoners possible" on occasion of his birthday and Independence Day.

He said his request was consistent with the amnesty of Ieng Sary and the welcoming

of Khmer Rouge soldiers into the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) many of whom

had committed "grave and uncountable" crimes against innocent Cambodians

and foreigners.

Sihanouk's proposal was publicly criticized on at least two occasions.

On October 24 National Police Chief Hok Lundy warned the move could spark a surge

in crime and retaliations against law enforcers. On the same day representatives

of student groups associated with CPP co-Prime Minister Hun issued a public letter

saying the move would endanger law abiding citizens.

First Prime Minister and Funcinpec leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh publicly supported

the King's initiative, but at press time Hun Sen had made no official response.

According to a Ministry of Interior source who requested anonymity, the King's original

decision threw officials into confusion as they attempted to prepare for the mass

release just weeks after the King announced his decision.

And, he added, a meeting of provincial governors, vice-governors, interior and police

officials held in Phnom Penh October 24 and 25, was divided along political lines

over what action to take.

"The Funcinpec officials said we must respect the King's wishes, no matter what.

The CPP officials said yes, we must respect the Kings wishes, but we must have a

procedure to follow. If we just let prisoners go without a proper procedure, we could

see the crime rate increase very badly," he said.

"Under Cambodian law, prisoners can be paroled three times a year - on the King's

birthday, during Khmer New Year and during Visak Bo Chea [a Buddhist ceremony held

during the rainy season]. At these times any convicted prisoner who has served one

third of his sentence can have that sentence reduced for good behavior and any prisoner

who has served two thirds of his sentence can be released."

But, the official said, the procedure in these cases was quite specific.

"Interior officials have two months to compile lists of prisoners who are to

be released or have their sentences reduced. The lists are then sent to the Justice

Ministry who sends them to the King for his signature. But this time we only had

about two weeks...

"We had no procedure to follow," the source said. "And without a proper

procedure, rich and well connected criminals can pay to have their names put on lists

of prisoners to be released."

But the King's intention to grant a mass amnesty did receive some support, with human

rights and legal observers applauding the move on humanitarian grounds.

At least one human rights lawyer said, however, that any such amnesty would need

to be accompanied by a host of other measures if it was to be successful.

Speaking in a private capacity, Juan Pablo Ordonez, a human rights lawyer involved

in legal training, said the vast majority of Cambodian prisoners were poor and had

very little to go to outside of prison.

"If you just release these people the chance that they will re-offend is very

high - they will have to rob and steal just to survive.

"For such an amnesty to be successful you need to support it with emergency

programs which provide food, shelter and job training - and those programs need to

be sustained for at least six months," he said.

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