Despite their political differences, former opposition leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy have offered their condolences to Prime Minister Hun Sen over the death of his mother-in-law.
On Tuesday, Sokha visited Hun Sen at his residence in Phnom Penh to pay his last respects to Bun Seangly, who passed away on Monday at 96.
Their meeting marked the first time in four years since the two met. He was arrested for “treason” in September 2017 and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court later that year.
Sokha’s former cabinet chief Muth Chantha, who escorted him to the funeral, said the visit was a show of compassion and unity in difficult times.
“Sokha shared his deepest condolences to Hun Sen for the loss of his beloved mother-in-law. They talked for around 50 minutes about national interests,” he said.
Meng Sopheary, one of Sokha’s four defence lawyers who also accompanied him to the funeral, declined to elaborate on the pair’s discussion.
“Attending a funeral is a tradition in our Khmer culture. Anyone can attend to express condolence and share sorrow,” she said.
Rainsy, who is currently living in France in self-imposed exile to avoid a slew of legal cases against him in the Kingdom, also sent his condolences.
In his letter, he recalled a time when the prime minister made a phone call to his wife Tioulong Saumura in November 2016 to express condolence over the death of her mother. Hun Sen sent his son Hun Many to the funeral.
“No matter how different our political positions are, the sorrow caused by the death of our loved ones can happen to us at any time,” he wrote.
Rainsy told The Post that his letter of condolence to Hun Sen was a “reciprocal courtesy”.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said on Wednesday the sharing of condolences is a good gesture in Khmer culture, which he said is separate from Sokha’s legal case.
“Justice and good gesture are two different things. Having good manners is part of our Cambodian culture, and justice is part of the courts’ affairs. I think both cannot be mixed,” he said.
Sokha has also donated $5,000 to the government in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said Sokha’s condolence visit was a positive sign of relations between the former political rivals, though he said it was too early to say if it holds sway on his ongoing treason trial.
“We don’t see any real progress yet. His trial is quietly proceeding and no charge has been dropped,” he said.
Sokha is accused of conspiring with a foreign power to topple the government and faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty. His trial has been delayed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But on Wednesday next week, the Appeal Court will hear his lawyers’ arguments against the lower court’s decision to accept new evidence submitted by the prosecution in the treason trial.
Appeal Court spokesperson Touch Tharith confirmed the date but declined to provide details.
Sokha’s lawyer Sopheary said without elaborating that the lower court’s acceptance of new evidence submitted by the prosecution violated legal procedures.