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Cambodian Ruling Party, Opposition in Dialogue

FILE - Cambodia's main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Deputy President and National Assembly Deputy President Kem Sokha greets to his supporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipality Court in Phnom Penh, Wednesday, April 8, 2015.

The acting leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, recently met with Interior Minister Sar Kheng to discuss a number of issues, including expenditures in the upcoming budget and a draft law to regulate unions.

Following the closed-door, one-hour meeting, a spokesman for the Rescue Party and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) told reporters the two sides had agreed to establish a working group to receive public comments on the union law, including from human rights and development organizations and labor leaders.

CPP lawmaker and spokesman Chheang Vun said the draft law was being discussed "from the standpoint of the "culture of dialogue," a term used by both sides to signal cordial relations and talks, following a bitter political division in the wake of 2013’s elections.

Critics say similar workshops were already held for input on the law, much of which was ignored. Unions fear the law, as drafted, will make it hard to collectivize workers and puts labor leaders at higher risk of arrest if demonstrations turn violent outside their control.

Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith told reporters that some sensitive topics, such as the exile of party president Sam Rainsy and the continued incarceration of aged party senator Hong Sokhour, were not discussed. Such issues could be discussed by party leadership at some point for the sake of "national unification and reconciliation," he said.

Last week’s meeting came on the heels of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama and other ASEAN leaders in California. The United States has made clear that warmer ties will require improved human rights and democracy efforts from Cambodia, even as it presses for improved diplomatic ties across the region.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.