Assembly Slammed for Stripping Immunity

US Senator Mitch McConnell, a long-time critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen, unleashed a vociferous at­tack on the National Assembly’s vote to strip the parliamentary im­mu­­nity of three opposition law­mak­­ers and subsequent arrest of par­­liamentarian Cheam Channy on Thursday.

Retaliating to the US condemnation on Friday, National Assembly and royalist party President Prince No­­rodom Ranariddh accused the US of interfering in Cambodia’s in­ter­nal affairs and “illegally” helping op­position leader Sam Rainsy flee the country on Thursday.

Sam Rainsy was reportedly en­route to France on Friday while Cheam Channy remained jailed at the Military Prison in Phnom Penh charged with opposing the or­ders of RCAF high command, plot­­ting to establish an armed force and deceiving people in Phnom Penh and the provinces since December 2002. Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch face de­famation lawsuits from Fun­cin­pec for their allegations that Prince Ra­na­riddh took bribes to join the co­a­li­tion government.

“Behind closed doors, the country’s rubber-stamp National As­sem­bly executed the…plan of Fun­cinpec party head Norodom Ra­nariddh and CPP hardline Prime Minister Hun Sen to undermine the democratic opposition led by Sam Rainsy,” McConnell wrote in a statement Thursday. “I encourage the State De­part­ment to respond in a forceful and ap­prop­riate manner,” he said.

Parliamentarians who took part in Thursday’s vote should be prevented, along with their families, from entering the US, McConnell said.

“I encourage other donors to pub­­licly condemn the actions of the National Assembly, and to con­si­der sanctions against the Cam­bo­di­an government,” said Mc­Con­nell in his statement which also called on the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to consi­der suspending operations in the coun­try.

Om Yentieng, adviser to the prime minister, declined to comment Friday.

The US State Department and US Embassy condemned the As­sem­bly vote in strongly worded­ state­ments on Thursday.

“I will not go to the United States anymore,” Prince Ranariddh said outside the Assembly on Friday.

“The United States did not help us out…they just wait and lambaste us,” Prince Ranariddh said, adding that McConnell’s statement in­fringed on Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty.

“All 97 [parliamentarians] voted. So they represented three quarters of the electorate. This is de­moc­racy. If you prohibit them from entering your country, please, you make that decision. But Norodom Ranariddh doesn’t need to go to the United States,” the prince said.

Prince Ranarridh also said the government should investigate the US Embassy’s alleged role in es­corting Sam Rainsy to Phnom Penh In­ternational Airport.

Royalist lawmakers will also likely reject a 2003 agreement with the US promising to not surrender US military personnel to the In­ternational Criminal Court without Washington’s consent.

A US Embassy officials declined to comment Friday on the growing furor with the Cambodian government.

“All that we have to say is what we said in our statements. Ob­vi­ous­ly, we feel this is a set back for de­mocracy in Cambodia,” the official said.

Though Cambodia had committed to the ICC agreement with the US, the agreement had not been ratified due to the post-election dead­lock, the official added.

Funcinpec lawmaker Princess No­rodom Vacheara said Friday that she voted on Thursday to lift the parliamentarians’ immunity be­cause they did not remain at the As­sembly to defend themselves.

“They did not stay to defend them­selves so I raised my hand to vote approval [of the motion], the same as all other members,” the Prin­cess said.

Princess Vacheara also attacked the US government’s “interference” and said that McConnell was acting like a dictator. “[Mc­Con­nell] has no rights to prohibit other individuals from entering the US. By say­ing this, it means he is vi­olating hu­man rights. He is a dictator.”

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-Ge­ne­ral Eng Chhay Eang said Fri­day that opposition parliamentarians will travel to the provinces to meet with supporters to allay fears about Thurs­day’s events. “This detention was illegal and is illegal…. Every­thing was absolutely politically motivated,” he said.

Military Court Director Ney Thol said that a warrant was is­sued on Friday morning to keep Cheam Channy in detention during questioning. “It is lawful to keep him there for further questioning,” Ney Thol said.

The pro-opposition Cambodia Watch­dog Council, a coalition of stu­dent groups and labor movements, wrote to King Norodom Si­ha­moni and US President George W Bush seeking their in­ter­vention to restore the lawmakers’ immunity and gain the release of Cheam Channy.

Calling the move a step backwards for democracy, the Khmer Youth Association also issued a state­ment calling on the three po­li­ti­cal parties to resolve their internal dis­putes and, instead, work together to eliminate poverty and corruption in the country.

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