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Opposition leader loses final appeal

Opposition leader loses final appeal

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Sam Rainsy speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh in March 2009.

The Supreme Court today upheld an Appeal Court verdict in the case of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two villagers convicted of destroying public property and racial incitement after uprooting demarcation posts along the Vietnamese border in 2009.

Supreme Court Vice President Khim Pon said border post 185, which Sam Rainsy had pulled up in protest at alleged encroachment on Cambodian land, was planted by the joint Cambodian-Vietnamese border committee according to a well-studied plan, and its position was affirmed by the National Assembly, Senate and King in 2005.

“We understood that there is enough evidence against Sam Rainsy, who incited racial discrimination,” Khim Pon said.

“The upholding of the Appeal Court is official.”

Khim Pon also said the court had reviewed photographs showing that the two villagers, Meas Srey and Prom Chea, had in fact taken part in removing the border posts.

Svay Rieng villagers said at the time that they had lost land to Vietnam because of erroneously placed border posts.

The Sam Rainsy Party has repeatedly criticised the government over the issue.

No official map exists, and the government has said it hopes to complete demarcation in 2012.

Chan Sok Yeang, the government’s lawyer in the case, said he was content with the ruling and declined to comment further.

“As people, we must respect the law,” he said.

Sam Rainsy said the court was “politically subservient” in its decision and called on the government to drop its complaint.

“I am sure the government will show a minimum of consistency by dropping its ridiculous complaint against me and by stopping blatantly using the politically subservient court in trying to silence me,” he said by email today from Paris, where he lives in self-imposed exile.

Sam Rainsy cited a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen to National Assembly President Heng Samrin on November 8 last year, which stated that “the joint technical group from the two countries has not planted border post #185 yet” and was still studying the territory.

“Given the official recognition that there was no such thing as a legal border post #185, I cannot possibly have committed a crime by pulling out wooden posts, which were illegally planted on Cambodian farmers’ rice fields,” Sam Rainsy said.

In January last year, the Svay Rieng provincial court sentenced Sam Rainsy to two years imprisonment in absentia.

It delivered one-year sentences to Meas Srey and Prom Chea, and ordered all three to pay a combined 63 million riel (US$15,598) in compensation.

The Appeal Court reduced the sentences of Meas Srey and Prom Chea by two months in October and ordered that they be released from Kandal provincial prison.

Sam Rainsy was also sentenced to 10 years in jail in September by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for disinformation and falsifying public documents. The charges were brought in connection with evidence he publicised criticising his conviction in this case.

The SRP has said both cases against their president are politically motivated and designed to weaken the Kingdom’s largest opposition party ahead of commune and national elections in 2012 and 2013.  ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER

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