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Cambodian Opposition Politician Freed After Royal Pardon


An opposition member of Cambodia's parliament has been freed from prison after receiving a royal pardon. The leader of the party also expects to return home from exile after receiving a pardon and mending his fences with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Senior opposition politician Cheam Channy Monday walked out of a military prison and told a gathering of about one hundred supporters that he would continue to serve the interests of the people.

He thanked Cambodian King Sihamoni for the pardon and Prime Minister Hun Sen who requested it. Cheam Channy last year was sentenced to seven years in prison after a court found him guilty of forming an illegal armed group.

Human rights groups said the charges were a politically motivated attack on the Sam Rainsy Party, Cambodia's main opposition group.

The head of the party branch in Phnom Penh, Ho Vann, said the lawmaker had committed no crime.

He said Cheam Channy had been asked by the party to form an advisory board on military and security matters.

Ho Vann also said the leader of the party, Sam Rainsy, would return to Cambodian this week from nearly one year in exile after he, too, received a royal pardon in a separate case.

Sam Rainsy fled to France last year after the parliament lifted his immunity. A Cambodian court subsequently found him guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and sentenced him in absentia to 18 months in prison.

The opposition leader last week apologized for accusing Mr. Hun Sen of responsibility for a grenade attack on an anti-government demonstration nine years ago. The prime minister accepted the apology and requested the pardon.

Officials say the Cambodian parliament would re-instate the parliamentary immunity of both opposition politicians as soon as the required legal procedures are completed.

Sam Rainsy and Mr. Hun Sen say they ended their long-running feud in the national interest. Human rights groups, which have accused the government of using the courts to crush dissent, noted that the pardons come ahead of a meeting with foreign donors next month.

The Cambodian government last week also dropped defamation charges against seven activists who criticized the prime minister for signing a controversial border agreement with Vietnam. The charges had been widely condemned by rights groups and several governments, including the United States.

Cambodia is trying to recover from years of civil strife and the government depends on foreign aid for nearly one-half of its budget.