Cambodian Opposition Leader Calls on Japan to Help Stop Anti-Democratic Trend in Phnom Penh

Cambodia's opposition leader is calling for Japan and other donor nations to put pressure on the Phnom Penh government because of its recent political moves which the opposition calls anti-democratic.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy left home nearly two months ago after his parliamentary immunity was withdrawn - a move strongly condemned by the United States and the European Union.

Cambodia's government wants Mr. Rainsy to face charges of defamation for his allegations of widespread government corruption and for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of having a hand in the murder of opposition-affiliated union leader 14 months ago.

After Mr. Rainsy left Cambodia, another opposition legislator was arrested and is believed to be held in a military prison.

Speaking in Tokyo on Thursday, Mr. Rainsy, head of the political group that bears his name, the Sam Rainsy Party, says Japan, as the biggest donor to Cambodia, can to use its clout to protect the country's democracy.

"This weakening of democracy has led to an increase in corruption, an increase in poverty, so this is the message I have been delivering to the Japanese authorities."

Japan's Foreign Ministry late Thursday said it does not believe that Cambodia misuses Japanese aid and says that Tokyo carries out inspections to prevent illegal of use funds.

As for the plight of Mr. Rainsy and the opposition, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Japan "hopes the issue will be solved in a democratic way."

Mr. Rainsy, a former finance minister, says the opposition has been "virtually wiped out" from the National Assembly.

The opposition leader, whose party placed third in the 2003 national elections, says he has written to both former King Norodom Sinahouk and his son, the current monarch, Norodom Sihamoni, appealing for their help.

"We want the king to play his constitutional role fully," he said. "According to the constitution, the king is the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary."

Since early February, Mr. Rainsy has been on the road, appealing to legislators around the world for help.

Mr. Rainsy says he plans to return home soon. He brushes off the possible legal charges, noting he has not been intimidated by a previous expulsion from Parliament, assassination attempts and the killings of dozens of his supporters.

Mr. Rainsy travels Friday to Manila to make an appeal for support to the general assembly of the International Parliamentary Union.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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