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Unity appeal follows vitriol

Days after warning that his ruling party was as capable and willing to protest as the opposition, and threatening a barbed-wire fence in Freedom Park to divide the two groups, Prime Minister Hun Sen was yesterday talking multi-party reform.

Speaking at the Intercontinental Hotel in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen appealed to the Cambodia National Rescue Party, NGOs and development partners to unite to implement an agenda of reform over the next five years.

“I would like to emphasise the government’s serious determination in carrying out this reform agenda,” he said.

Such targets for change, he said, would include the court system – often criticised as a tool of the ruling party – the electoral mechanism and the government’s approach to human rights.

Hun Sen’s comments followed two days of verbal jousting between the Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen, in announcing an imminent end to a ban on public assembly, said that if the opposition took to the streets for more protests, it should prepare for the CPP to follow.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy responded the next day by saying that if Hun Sen tried to use authorities to crack down on CNRP supporters, they would likely defy orders and side with the opposition.

On the same day, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith used a public speech to accuse the opposition of trying to derail the economy and social stability by boycotting the National Assembly, which it has done since September in protest against last July’s election result.

In response to Hun Sen’s comments yesterday, opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said the CNRP would be willing to take part in such political reform efforts – provided the premier was serious about it.

“What is vital is that the government follows reforms suggested by NGOs rather than just promise to,” he said.

Chan Soveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, welcomed calls for NGOs to join reform talks, but added it was something that needed to actually happen.

“The government should not make promises to do this and never go through with it,” he said.

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