Formal negotiations between the opposition and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party will take place “as soon as possible”, an aide to Prime Minister Hun Sen said following a meeting yesterday between the premier and UN special rapporteur for human rights Surya Subedi.
The statement came after the Post reported on Monday that backroom negotiations had begun shortly after the government crackdown on striking garment workers and the forced clearance of the opposition’s protest camp at Freedom Park on January 3 and 4.
In an unusual hours-long meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday morning, Subedi raised several issues related to human rights and the political situation in the country, which led Hun Sen to raise the issue of negotiations said to be going on behind the scenes aimed at breaking the deadlock.
“I understand that there have been negotiations going on at different levels with the help of different intermediaries,” Subedi told the Post in an interview following the meeting.
“We did discuss some aspects of it [the negotiations], but the focus the prime minister was making was mainly using parliament.… That’s where all these matters should be discussed.”
Om Yentieng, an aide to Hun Sen, told reporters after the morning meeting between Subedi and Hun Sen that formal negotiations were inevitable.
“I think that both parties cannot avoid negotiations. I am not directly involved, but I heard that the negotiations will take place as soon as possible,” he said.
According to two political analysts briefed on the talks last week, a high-ranking government official met with the opposition following the crackdown as an envoy of Hun Sen to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations between the two parties, which would be presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni.
Subedi said he believed that Hun Sen was ready to make comprehensive reforms, which could go some way to satisfying the opposition’s demands.
“The prime minister is serious about comprehensive reform, political reform, legal reform and judicial reform, including regulatory reform. And that will go a long way to satisfy some of the concerns I have received from the opposition party,” he said, adding that he left with the “impression that both sides were serious about finding a solution”.
Yim Sovann, a CNRP spokesman, said yesterday that formal negotiations to end the stalemate would be welcomed by the party, provided the opposition’s main demands were part of the deal.
“The CNRP will not join the National Assembly if electoral reform and a re-election by mid-term are not made, because it is an agenda to find justice for our voters,” he said.
On Monday, political analyst Kem Ley and Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organization, an NGO, told the Post they had held lengthy discussions with the mediator last week,
in which they were briefed on the informal negotiations between the two parties. Opposition chairmanships of parliamentary commissions, licensing a CNRP television station and reforming the electoral system were included in the demands, which Ley said had been “80 per cent agreed to”.
He added yesterday that the demands also included calling an early election, possibly in 2015 or 2016, although the Post was unable to immediately confirm whether this long-held opposition demand would be considered by Hun Sen.
The CNRP would also be able to call on CPP ministers for questioning over their records as elected public officials, Yentieng told reporters yesterday, without elaborating.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy met separately with Subedi yesterday evening, according to his assistant.
Rainsy declined to comment for this article.
Subedi also raised concerns with Hun Sen over the recent deaths in the authorities’ crushing of garment worker strikes earlier this month and arrests of 23 people.
“I was seriously concerned about the deaths of five people and arrests and detention of 23 other people, kept in CC3,” he said, referring to the remote prison near the Vietnamese border where the detainees were taken in secret.
“The series of events that have taken place over the past two weeks or so has made everybody shocked, including myself. Before, space was widening for freedom of expression, the exercise of all human rights; large demonstrations had taken place and they were disciplined,” he said.
“But this setback has upset many people and the international community has a role to play in bridging the gap between the opposition party and the ruling party.”
Subedi, who has just entered his third term as UN envoy, has rarely had the opportunity for such in-depth conversations in the past. Though he has met with the premier before, during his last few visits he has been snubbed by both Hun Sen and other government officials and seen verbal attacks levelled against his work.