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Pardon due for Vannak; Prince still in waiting

Pardon due for Vannak; Prince still in waiting

KING Norodom Sihanouk says he is only awaiting a governmental "green light"

before pardoning Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Srun Vong Vannak, now

in jail for the murder of Hun Sen's brother-in-law.

"I have the honor of informing you that I submitted today to the high examination

of HE Mr Ung Huot and HE Samdech Hun Sen, First Prime Ministers of the Royal Government

of Cambodia, the case of Srun Vong Vannak, [as well as co-defendants] Suos Kasem

and Prum Meanrith," the King wrote in a May 11 statement released by fax on

May 19. "As soon as I have received the green light from the two Royal Government

leaders, I will not hesitate to sign a decree granting the Royal pardon."

Sam Rainsy loyalist Vannak and two co-defendants were convicted based on their confessions

and sentenced to at least 10 years each in prison for their purported roles in the

killing of Hun Sen's brother-in-law Kov Samuth in 1996. All three subsequently recanted

their confessions, saying they were coerced.

During talks in December between opposition figure Sam Rainsy's political party and

Hun Sen's CPP about a coalition government following the July elections, the Second

Prime Minister promised to seek a pardon for Vannak - a pardon which he appears to

have hedged upon in the ensuing five and a half months.

An adviser to Hun Sen has said that Vannak must exhaust all legal avenues before

the Second Prime Minister will seek the pardon. Vannak's appeal is set for May 27.

While the Constitution grants the King the right to grant pardons and reduce sentences

and does not specify that the appeal process must have any effect on it, he would

seek Hun Sen's permission before granting clemency, particularly in politically sensitive

cases.

Legal observers say the King has left himself open to criticism because he does not

fulfil his role as the constitutional guarantor of the independence of the judiciary,

and that if Vannak has been falsely imprisoned, he must be granted a Royal pardon

- with or without Hun Sen's prior approval.

One legal expert said that the King's unwillingness to stand up to a "corrupt

judiciary" could only undermine faith in the constitutional monarchy in the

long run.

Meanwhile, Royal family members have written Sihanouk asking him to pardon his son

Prince Nor-odom Chakrapong who was accused of leading a coup against the government

in 1993.

Chakrapong is now in exile in France. His family expressed hope that the March 21

pardon of Prince Norodom Ranariddh - upon the request of his close family - might

mean their father's name could also be cleared.

"[We] ask for Your Majesty's intervention on grounds of humanity for the Royal

pardoning of our father," said a March 23 letter from the Chakrapong family

and signed by his son Norodom Buddhapong. The letter was published in the most recent

issue of the King's monthly bulletin.

Chakrapong, 52, was a high-ranking CPP member elected as the National Assembly representative

for Kampong Cham in the 1993 election. He gave up his seat when he contested the

election results before leading an aborted secession effort.

It was alleged he led the failed coup attempt in July 1994. He was subsequently permitted

to flee into exile and kicked out of the CPP before the Phnom Penh Military Court

convicted him in absentia for his actions and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Unlike his older brother, Rana-riddh, who was cleared of military court convictions

that amounted to treason - although he denied breaking the law - the Chakrapong family

acknowledged their father's wrongdoing.

"We plead for Your Majesty's forgiveness where we have erred," said the

letter.

While CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the King has yet to pass on the request

from Chak-rapong family to Hun Sen, he suggested a pardon for Chakrapong was unlikely

to take place any time soon.

"It is better to wait until after the election," said Kanharith.

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