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Cambodia's Hun Sen, Opposition Leader Announce Deal Ending Deadlock

  • Ron Corben

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, talks with the main Opposition Party leader Sam Rainsy, left, of Cambodia National Rescue Party, after their meeting in Senate headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 22, 2012.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, talks with the main Opposition Party leader Sam Rainsy, left, of Cambodia National Rescue Party, after their meeting in Senate headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 22, 2012.

Cambodia's Prime Minister and opposition parties have announced an agreement ending nearly a year of political deadlock that is expected to enable the National Assembly to fully reopen.

The agreement between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy followed five hours of closed-door talks Tuesday - the third round of discussions since the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party boycotted parliament after the July 2013 elections.

The opposition had refused to take up their 55 seats in parliament, alleging the polls were rigged. They had called for reforms before fresh elections.

In the settlement, both sides agreed to work together at the National Assembly to solve major issues and reform independent institutions to "benefit the nation, the people" and democratic pluralism.

Sim Sooya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said the agreement marked a major step forward after the year of political conflict.

"I really congratulate both parties for political maturity as of today and I'd like if both parties work together Cambodia will develop faster and as a more egalitarian society. This is a very positive step, and this is very promising for the future of Cambodia. I think this is the beginning of everything good," said Sim Sooya.

The agreement was also marked by steps to release seven opposition lawmakers and a party activist detained last Tuesday after violence erupted near Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, in clashes with security guards when the opposition attempted to stage a rally.

The lawmakers were facing charges ranging from insurrection to inciting violence that carry possible lengthy jail terms if found guilty.

Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades and is known for his autocratic style of government, but was all smiles at the end of the talks, calling them a "success."

Sam Rainsy, who had spent several years in exile before returning to Cambodia just prior to last year's elections, flew to Phnom Penh Saturday, saying that talks were the only solution to the political deadlock.

Political scientist Carl Thayer of the Australian-based University of New South Wales, said that although the agreement draws Sam Rainsy back into the political process, the political outlook remains uncertain.

"The way Hun Sen plays the game in the past is that any time an arrangement like this can be completely overturned if the opposition takes a stance or does things that he disagrees with. I'm not going to be overwhelmingly optimistic nor I'm not going to be completely convinced that they've turned the corner until we've seen the passage of time," Thayer stated.

The talks also settled on pressing on with new elections but no final date has been set. Under the existing election timetable, Cambodia had been due for new national polls in July 2018.

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