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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King seeks pardon for Sok Yoeun

King seeks pardon for Sok Yoeun

The King has apealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen for the pardon of Sok Yoeun, an opposition

political activist accused of an alleged assassination attempt on Prime Minister

Hun Sen in 1998.

Yoeun is scheduled to be extradited to Cambodia after a Thai court turned down an

appeal on November 28. Yoeun remains in Thai custody.

A pardon is usually given to someone already convicted of a crime. The King's request,

on December 3, puts the government in the awkward position of pardoning someone who

has not yet been tried or even indicted. Officials said they would wait and see if

charges were filed.

"Now, Sok Yoeun is not a criminal," said Khieu Kanharith, a spokesman for

the government. "Police accused him of attempting to kill Hun Sen, so we invited

him for questioning. If it is true, we will send him to court. If not, we will release

him."

Om Yien Teng, an advisor to Hun Sen, said he didn't know when Yoeun was expected

to arrive in Cambodia. He tried to put an innocuous face on the extradition.

"We welcome Sok Yoeun back to the country because he is Khmer," he said.

"I think that people who criticize the government should respect the sovereignty

of Cambodia."

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of NGOs, and Amnesty

International have called the assassination allegations unfounded and politically

motivated. They accused Hun Sen of targeting Yoeun, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party,

in order to link the opposition leader to the case.

"If Cambodia and Thailand implement this extradition, it will continue to highlight

the political nature of the extradition process and the assassination charges against

him," said Thun Saray, president of ADHOC, a member of CHRAC. "In accordance

with international human rights and refugee law, and for humanitarian reasons, this

man should be freed immediately to be reunited with his family."

The authorities accused Sok Yoeun of carrying out a rocket attack on a government

motorcade in 1998 before a new parliament was sworn in by King Norodom Sihanouk.

Hun Sen claimed the rockets were aimed at him.

Four B-40 rockets were rigged to fire by remote control, although not all were successfully

launched. None of them hit the vehicles carrying Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh and other

government officials. However, one 12-year old was killed in the attack. Eight people

were questioned and released afterward.

Yoeun fled Cambodia in September 1999. He was arrested on December 24 after a Thai

military official complained that Thailand was harboring a Cambodian "terrorist".

Hun Sen soon issued a demand for Yoeun's return to Cambodia.

Although he was initially sentenced to six months in a Thai prison for illegally

entering the country, he has remained in detention pending the outcome of a request

for his extradition to Cambodia. This request was made under an extradition treaty

that does not permit extradition for those accused of political offenses.

Yoeun has already been given refugee status by the United Nations High Commission

for Refugees and is considered to be a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

His family lives in Finland where they have been granted asylum.

The statement released by Amnesty International asserts his return to Cambodia, where

Amnest says he would face an unfair trial and possibly torture, is a violation of

both Thai domestic law and fundamental principles of international law.

"Sok Yoeun's case is clearly highly political and normal judicial procedures

have apparently not been followed," wrote Amnesty International. "This

verdict is rebuke to the UN and demonstrates Thailand's disregard for decisions taken

by UNHCR."

The United Nations Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht,

said Sok Yoeun stood a significant risk of persecution if returned to Cambodia.

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