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Free CNRP members: Kem Sokha

Detained Cambodia National Rescue Party official Meach Sovannara shouts to media
Detained Cambodia National Rescue Party official Meach Sovannara shouts to media and supporters last week at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh before being taken back to prison. Pha Lina

Free CNRP members: Kem Sokha

A senior leader of the country’s main opposition party has again called on the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to order the release of several party members and supporters who have been in jail since they were arrested following a violent protest in the capital in July last year.

Kem Sokha, deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, on Saturday called on the senior leadership of the CPP to order the release of the CNRP’s head of information Meach Sovannara and seven other party activists without conditions.

“We call on the leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party and the leader of the government to stop playing games with the negotiations, [to stop] fighting, applying pressure and using imprisonment at the same time,” he said.

Speaking during a public forum in Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district, both party leaders called for a “culture of conversation” to replace the alleged threats and intimidation.

The party leaders agreed to take their seats in the National Assembly, ending almost a year of political deadlock, in July last year. The CPP agreed to several concessions in order to break the standoff, including amending the constitution and election law and offering positions in parliamentary commissions to the opposition.

But the ruling party has since been accused of targeting opposition supporters in an attempt to influence the ongoing negotiations.

Sokha hinted that the CNRP might resort to pulling out of the negotiations if its members were not released from prison.

“How can we negotiate? How can we calm down if our members are imprisoned?” Sokha asked. “We endure, but there are limits to our endurance. If the situation is too unreasonable until we cannot endure it anymore we will not continue to sit down and talk with those who kill us.”

“This is not an issue of the courts because it is really politically motivated,” he added.

Sovannara’s wife, Jamie Meach, has appealed to the US Embassy and a congresswoman in the California district where she lives with her children to intervene in her husband’s case.

“I don’t want to stop him from participating in politics, but now I want to think of his safety. I want him to take care of his children,” she said.

Sovannara was charged with taking part in an “insurrection” for his alleged participation in a July 15 demonstration near Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park where several district security guards were badly beaten by opposition supporters.

Bin Chhin, lead CPP negotiator, Prum Sokha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, and ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached.

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