At about 10 a.m. Thursday morning, during a press conference at the CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters, opposition leader Sam Rainsy dialed the phone number of CPP Interior Minister Sar Kheng and told a few dozen reporters in attendance that he would broadcast their conversation over speaker phone.
But Mr. Kheng didn’t pick up.
Mr. Rainsy was calling to find out if the CPP was willing to negotiate with the CNRP over its demands for an impartial investigation into July’s national election, resignation of the nine-member National Election Committee and the adoption of recommendations from the U.N. and other election monitors to overhaul the electoral system.
A “common friend” of Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Kheng called back shortly after the press conference had ended to tell Mr. Rainsy that leaders of the CPP needed time to talk before responding to the CNRP’s request to restart top-level discussions between the two parties, Mr. Rainsy said.
At about 2 p.m., Mr. Rainsy delivered a brief speech at a conference on government decentralization at Sunway Hotel and then hurried away.
“I’m in a terrible rush,” he said, adding that he had expected to hear back from Mr. Kheng earlier in the afternoon.
“I’ve waited for a phone call from Sar Kheng since 12:30 [p.m.], but I have yet to receive [a call],” he said.
In an email sent to a reporter at 3:30 p.m., Mr. Rainsy wrote, “Total silence on the part of the CPP.”
“Usually when I call Sar Kheng he calls me back,” Mr. Rainsy said over the phone later in the afternoon.
“Before, when Sar Kheng does not answer, I call the common friend, the common friend sends the message to another friend, and immediately Sar Kheng calls back,” he said.
“But this time is very strange,” he added.
Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Kheng spoke twice a day during the CNRP’s three-day demonstration last week—a line of communication that Mr. Rainsy said had been decided on during the last round of top-level negotiations in September.
“We agreed that we must establish a communication line—a kind of hotline—and when there is any problem, Sar Kheng and I must talk,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“It worked for a while, until this morning,” he said.
CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap said that the ruling party was aware of the CNRP’s request to continue negotiations to find a solution to the post-election political dispute, which has now entered its fourth month.
“I have received information today that the CNRP wanted to hold negotiations with the CPP, but we have yet to fix a date for the meeting,” he said.
Mr. Yeap this week has gone back on a previous condition set by the CPP that the 55 elected CNRP lawmakers boycotting parliament must swear in as members of the National Assembly before the CPP will meet for further talks.
“This issue [of the CNRP’s boycott of parliament] is not involved with the negotiations. The negotiations do not require them to swear in [as members of the National Assembly],” Mr. Yeap said, contradicting his own, earlier comments.
Mr. Kheng could not be contacted for comment, and Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that he did not know why Mr. Kheng had not responded to Mr. Rainsy’s phone call.
“That is a personal matter,” he said.
At about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Mr. Rainsy called a reporter to pass along an update: The “common friend” had called him to say that the interior minister was busy and would return the opposition leader’s phone call Friday.
“I am sure they will respond…. We are not going to play hide and seek,” Mr. Rainsy said.
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)
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