Adhoc Prisoner Talks Left Off Upcoming Meeting Agenda

The ruling and opposition parties proposed agenda items over the weekend for a meeting between Interior Minister Sar Kheng and acting CNRP President Kem Sokha. However, the release of four jailed rights workers and an election official featured on neither party’s list, according to National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long.

“The CPP asked for two agenda items. The first was regarding the majority and minority groups’ responsibility in the assembly, and the second was about the duty of CPP and CNRP lawmakers’ leaders,” Mr. Peng Long said.

cam photo meeting channa
Interior Minister Sar Kheng, left, shakes hands with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha before a meeting last year at the National Assembly. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“The CNRP added two more agenda items. The first involved an amendment to the election law” to allow overseas Cambodians to vote, he said. “The other is about the political atmosphere before the elections.”

Neither party brought up the release of four officers working for rights group Adhoc and a senior election official, all arrested in May for purportedly bribing a mistress of Mr. Sokha to deny their alleged affair, he said.

The CNRP expected the release of the five—widely seen as being political prisoners—by the turn of the year, after Mr. Sokha sat down for negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr. Kheng on December 7. Mr. Kheng said at the time that they might be freed by the end of the month.

But last week, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, director of Mr. Kheng’s cabinet, said negotiations to free the group were superfluous amid racially charged criticism from opposition leader Sam Rainsy of the CPP’s celebration of January 7, the anniversary of the ouster of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese forces in 1979.

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said on Sunday that the party’s request to discuss the political atmosphere allowed wide-ranging discussions.

“We work together so any party can raise any issue,” he said.

“That’s also our responsibility: to deal with social justice, to deal with political victims. This is also the duty of the MPs of the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

He said that when it came to negotiations over the prisoners, the CPP “should not care too much about what Mr. Sam Rainsy comments.”

“Both parties agreed that we should solve the problem and the release of the political prisoners should be done. The leaders of both parties said that to the public, so I think we should proceed.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the two parties should avoid using the prisoners to resolve issues between political parties. Instead, the ruling party would seek more accountability for lawmakers through the discussions, he said.

“We want to discuss the duties and ground rules of the workings of the minority and majority lawmakers’ leaders…in order to organize what their work is and avoid failures through carelessness,” he said.

Mr. Eysan said the meeting was not yet scheduled, but might happen early next month.

Adhoc spokesman Sam Chankea agreed that the five prisoners should not be discussed in a political setting, but said the CPP should follow through on its promise to release them.

“I don’t think it should be put on the agenda because they are not involved in politics,” he said. “The government must push the court to release them because they did nothing wrong. They just did their jobs.”

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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