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Sam Rainsy in France to register concerns about loss of immunity

SRP spokesman says visit to include meetings with MPs from European Commission and the world parliamentary body.

OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy left Cambodia for Europe Tuesday to visit family in France and report on the recent suspension of his parliamentary immunity to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, his party said.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed the opposition leader had flown to France, where he would meet with family and celebrate his birthday on March 10.

Although he said the impetus for the trip was "unrelated to the political situation", he said Sam Rainsy would also take the opportunity to meet with members of parliament from the European Commission and report on the recent actions of the National Assembly.

"His immunity was suspended unconstitutionally, so he needs to inform everybody about this," Yim Sovann said Wednesday.

"If something happens in Cambodia, the international community should know about it because they contribute a lot of money to Cambodia's development."

Sam Rainsy confirmed Sunday that he had lodged complaints with the IPU, a world organisation of parliaments, in relation to the National Election Committee case, and that he would fight the "unconstitutional" decision to suspend his immunity.

Legal limbo

Sam Rainsy has been without immunity since February 26, when the National Assembly's Permanent Committee voted to suspend it after the SRP president refused to pay a 10 million riels (US$2,500) fine levied by the NEC for comments made during last year's national election campaign.

Although he has since paid the fine, Sam Rainsy's immunity remains suspended; and the National Assembly, currently in recess, will be unable

to lift it until it reconvenes next month.

National Assembly first Vice-Chairman Nguon Nhel said that even once the Assembly sessions reopen, it would not be able to reinstate his immunity until it is requested by the Justice Ministry.

In most democratic countries, they wait for the [Mp's] term ... to be over.

"This is not up to the parliament. The immunity suspension was requested by the minister of justice," he said.

He added that if the NA acted without an express request from that power, it would be in violation of the law.

But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the suspension of the immunity was itself illegal, pointing out that such an action required a two-thirds majority in the NA, not just a vote in the Assembly's Permanent Committee.

"If Sam Rainsy has already paid the compensation, and the NEC has dropped its case, there should be an automatic restoration [of his immunity]," he said.

He added that, being a minor crime, the suspension was "not justified", and that the government could have found other ways to deal with the case.

"In most democratic countries, they wait for the term of the parliamentarian to be over," Ou Virak added.

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