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Opposition Leader Wants US Mediation in Cambodian Political Strife

FILE - Sam Rainsy, foreground, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), receives a garland of jasmine upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 16, 2015.

The leader of Cambodia’s opposition, Sam Rainsy, is currently in the U.S. to seek support for his party and to ask the U.S. to mediate Cambodian politics, which have devolved over the last year.

In an interview with VOA Khmer in Washington this week, Sam Rainsy said countries like the U.S. can “push for reconciliation and mediation,” as well as free and fair elections.

Sam Rainsy is in exile abroad, facing jail time on criminal defamation charges should he return to Cambodia, in what his supporters say is a political case. Meanwhile, his Cambodia National Rescue Party is girding for local elections in 2017 and national elections the year after.

Sam Rainsy told VOA Khmer that the new National Election Committee (NEC), comprising members chosen by the opposition and ruling party, should be considered credible and will provide a better election process.

But the NEC is also operating in a political environment that has seen opposition activists and lawmakers beaten and jailed, and where senior leaders of the Rescue Party have been the targets of political and legal attacks.

Sam Rainsy told VOA Khmer Wednesday a mediator like the U.S. could help the two sides abide by political deals they have made already, ensuring more fair elections.

“We need witnesses and we need assurances, as well, ensuring that what we have discussed, what we agreed on, we will respect together in the future,” he said.

Sam Rainsy is in the U.S. ahead of scheduled talks between President Barack Obama and the leaders of ASEAN countries, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, in California on Feb. 16 and 17.

Sam Rainsy’s trip follows the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Cambodia, where Kerry emphasized the importance of human rights and democracy to ties with the United States.

Schanly Kuch, a political analyst who lives in Maryland, said the U.S. is unlikely to get involved diplomatically on behalf of one party or another. However, he said, a meeting between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen in California could help bring about reconciliation.

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