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Sovannara at odds with Rainsy over royal pardon

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Meach Sovannara (front, in scarf) receives a blessing at Wat Chas pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district after his release from Prey Sar prison on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

Sovannara at odds with Rainsy over royal pardon

Just hours after his release from prison, former senior Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official Meach Sovannara was at odds with his former president, Sam Rainsy, over the reasons for his release following a royal pardon.

Sovannara, who was convicted in relation to a political rally in the capital’s Freedom Park that turned violent, was speaking at a press conference at Wat Chas in Phnom Penh on Tuesday after a blessing ceremony.

He put his release, together with 13 other former CNRP members, purely down to prime minister-designate Hun Sen’s “virtue” and “good morals”.

However, this was in contrast to a Facebook post on Tuesday, in which Rainsy claimed the release of the 14 came as a result of “unprecedented international pressure”.

The 14 were sentenced to jail terms of between seven and 20 years and had been inside for more than three years.

Sovannara said Hun Sen and he could “work with each other” and that his sons were “intellectual” and could “continue his work”.

He said he will remain active in politics and wanted to compete with the younger generation of politicians, including Hun Sen’s sons.

“Prime Minister [Hun Sen] is very smart because he is a high-level politician. In politics, he closes one road and opens another for Cambodian national reconciliation. I believe as his skin and mine are both dark, we both originated from farmers.

“Hun Sen has someone intellectual to continue his work, such as his sons. They have PhDs in law and military studies. I also have a masters degree in political science.

“I live in Cambodia. I understand Cambodian culture . . . we can work with each other. We are opposed only on policies. I do not support Khmer killing Khmer,” he said.

Sovannara said he wanted to meet Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, the prime minister and King Norodom Sihamoni to inform them of conditions in Cambodian prisons.

But in taking to Facebook on Tuesday, Rainsy said: “Fellow patriots, don’t believe Hun Sen’s lies and don’t let him bully you. He is actually cornered under unprecedented international pressure.”

“CNRP president Kem Sokha will also be released shortly because Hun Sen, under international pressure, has to meet a deadline.”

Rainsy went on to demand the reinstatement of the CNRP and the restoration of the rights of 118 of its former officials who have been banned from political activities for five years.

The Cambodia National Rescue Movement leader, who lives in France, also called on Hun Sen to drop the charges against all CNRP leaders and activists, and all members of civil society organisations and the media.

He also demanded the government restore the more than 5,000 CNRP commune council positions won in last year’s June commune elections and called for new Senate and National Assembly elections.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said only the prime minister has the privilege, as stated in the constitution, to request the King to issue royal pardons for prisoners.

“Prisoners can be released by royal decree in accordance with a request from the prime minister. This comes on the recommendation of an evaluation committee as to the qualification of the prisoner, and it often happens on national holidays,” he said.

Social development analyst Meas Nee said since 1998, there had been a cycle of imprisonment and release. He said he wanted to see real will on the part of the government to bring about sweeping reforms.

He said if the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) released political prisoners and was successful in bringing about deep reforms in government, the party would continue to win elections, but if it did so just for appearances then it would be faced with [political] “danger”.

“So far it seems that it is recommending the pardons just to look good so that the international [community] recognises [the 2018 national elections and government],” he said.restoration of the rights of 118 of its former officials who have been banned from political activities for five years.

The Cambodia National Rescue Movement leader, who lives in France, also called on Hun Sen to drop the charges against all CNRP leaders and activists, and all members of civil society organisations and the media.

He also demanded the government restore the more than 5,000 CNRP commune council positions won in last year’s June commune elections and called for new Senate and National Assembly elections.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said only the prime minister has the privilege, as stated in the constitution, to request the King to issue royal pardons for prisoners.

Same old cycle

“Prisoners can be released by royal decree in accordance with a request from the prime minister. This comes on the recommendation of an evaluation committee as to the qualification of the prisoner, and it often happens on national holidays,” he said.

Social development analyst Meas Nee said since 1998, there had been a cycle of imprisonment and release. He said he wanted to see real will on the part of the government to bring about sweeping reforms.

He said if the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) released political prisoners and was successful in bringing about deep reforms in government, the party would continue to win elections, but if it did so just for appearances then it would be faced with [political] “danger”.

“So far it seems that it is recommending the pardons just to look good so that the international [community] recognises [the 2018 national elections and government],” he said.

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