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UN Leader Calls for Talks to Ease Cambodia Tensions

Court officials want to question Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha, pictured in Phnom Penh in February 2016, about recent allegations of solicitation and ignoring previous subpoenas.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, echoing statements from the United States and the European Union, called Thursday for negotiations between the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Ban's statement came on the heels of a period of political tension between Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party and the opposition. In recent months, at least 20 members of local civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and members and supporters of the CNRP were imprisoned on charges ranging from incitement to bribery.

And in recent days, security forces have tried to arrest the CNRP’s acting president, Kem Sokha, amid ongoing attempts by the municipal court to question him about allegations of solicitation and ignoring previous subpoenas.

Ban made his comments during a phone conversation with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, a summary of which was later posted to a U.N. website. It said Ban “expressed concern” about the breakdown in interparty relations and the jailing of dissidents.

“The secretary-general conveyed his hope that the government of Cambodia would ensure full respect for human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” read the statement. “He called for the resumption of the culture of dialogue between the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party.”

Both the CPP and CNRP on Thursday welcomed the statement.

“His call is good for Cambodia, to be in peace and harmony,” Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling party, told VOA's Khmer service. “However, his evaluation and concerns about human rights and other issues in Cambodia are not reflective of the reality in Cambodian society. All the problems occur because members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party themselves violated the law.”

A meeting 'very soon'?

Eysan added that the CPP and CNRP working groups, which were established in 2015, were already talking about when a meeting between the parties could be held and what the agenda should be.

“Therefore, I think, it will happen very soon," Eysan said. "Our parties’ working groups will meet to strengthen the culture of dialogue, and it is complying to the request made by His Excellency Ban Ki-moon.”

Yim Sovann, a CNRP lawmaker and spokesman, said the next meeting of the CNRP and CPP should focus on “the violation of lawmakers’ immunity" and the "jailing of opposition party activists and civil society members and [an election official].”

However, the ruling party has previously said a precondition of new talks would be that these topics are off the table.

Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, an election monitoring group, said a breakdown in communication and the self-exile of CNRP President Sam Rainsy had created a deadlocked situation.

“It is obvious that the lower level of dialogue — the third level, the working group — will find it hard to make any majority decision to resolve political issues, including the violations of political rights, usage of court to jail lawmakers, and violence against opposition lawmakers,” he said.

The ruling party should seek a “political compromise,” he added, explaining that it should include a pardon for Rainsy, who is wanted to serve a two-year prison term for defamation.

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