Interior Minister Says Opposition Divided Over Negotiations

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday blamed stalled negotiations over the disputed results of July’s national election on divisions within the opposition CNRP, whose leaders he said were of two minds about resuming talks.

Top-level talks between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who is disputing the CPP’s official victory in the elections, stalled after only two days in mid-September and have not resumed since, as the opposition has taken an increasingly hard line.

After inaugurating a new training center for SOS Children’s Village International in Phnom Penh on Monday, Mr. Kheng said Mr. Rainsy had broached the topic of renewing talks when he called the opposition leader Sunday afternoon to discuss the CNRP’s plans to march through the city that evening. He said Mr. Rainsy sounded eager to restart negotiations but added that CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha still seemed staunchly opposed.

“I wondered about His Excellency Sam Rainsy…who said he was open to continuing to negotiate,” Mr. Kheng said. “But Kem Sokha closes the way for negotiations. So I don’t understand about this.”

The CPP, he added, “maintains its position and the CPP will try to continue to talk with them.”

Mr. Kheng made no mention of speaking with Mr. Sokha directly. But at a CNRP protest in Phnom Penh on Sunday against the official national election result, Mr. Sokha was adamant with the crowd that the opposition would accept nothing short of new national polls. Returning to the negotiating table now, he said, would be tantamount to “killing our own nation.”

Mr. Rainsy could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Sokha, however, dismissed the interior minister’s talk of a split within the opposition.

“What he said is meant to split us, but we are united,” he said, and reiterated his demand for a new election.

“We will negotiate based on the principle of re-elections,” Mr. Sokha said. “If they agree with this, we will meet and talk.”

Last week, Mr. Kheng said a re-election would be impossible.

The Interior Ministry made a similar claim about a split opposition in October, when ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak issued a statement saying that negotiations were stalled because the opposition president and vice president had set conflicting conditions for letting the CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers take their seats at the National Assembly.

Then, as now, the CNRP denied the claim.

Formed by a merger between Mr. Rainsy’s Sam Rainsy Party and Mr. Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012, the CNRP has regularly had to battle perceptions that its unity is tenuous.

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