King Pardons Sam Rainsy at PM’s Request

Self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rain­sy will return to Cam­bodia this week, following a royal pardon is­­­sued Sunday by King No­rodom Sihamoni, opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said.

The pardon, announced on na­tional television Sunday, comes shortly after Sam Rainsy sent conciliatory letters to Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, saying he regretted past statements.

Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison in December after being convicted of defaming both Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh.

“This is His Majesty’s kindness. This is a good sign to show that Khmer can talk to Khmer, and we can compromise. We want that culture,” said Meng Rita, Sam Rainsy Party acting secretary-general.

Sam Rainsy, whose one-year anniversary of self-imposed exile passed on Friday, did not respond to a Sunday e-mail seeking comment. Eng Chhay Eang said that Sam Rainsy contacted him by telephone from France to say that he would return to Cambodia this week, though he did not give a specific date.

On Friday, Sam Rainsy sent letters to Hun Sen and Prince Ra­nariddh, saying he regretted blaming the prime minister for the 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally and accusing the prince of ac­cepting bribes to join the current coalition government.

In his letter to Hun Sen, Sam Rain­sy offered no alternative suspects for the 1997 attack, which left around a dozen dead and at least 150 injured. Opposition party mem­bers interviewed on Sunday also declined to speculate on the identity of the perpetrators. The case remains unsolved.

In his letter to the prime minister, which was read on television sta­tions Friday, Sam Rainsy promised to “change my behavior to end all those problems and avoid such problems happening again.”

In his letter to the prince, Sam Rainsy expressed “regret about my misconduct that affected Samdech’s [Ranariddh’s] reputation.”

“I accused Samdech of receiving bribes that were worth millions of dollars and also an airplane. I hope that Samdech [Ra­na­riddh] will forgive me the same as Samdech Hun Sen,” Sam Rainsy wrote on Friday.

Hun Sen responded with a letter to King Sihamoni on Sunday, re­questing Sam Rainsy’s pardon.

“Because His Excellency Sam Rainsy has already fixed damages for Prince Norodom Ranariddh, na­tional assembly president, and I, head of the government, so I re­quest His Majesty to pardon His Ex­cellency Sam Rainsy,” Hun Sen wrote.

Sam Rainsy Party members said that compromise with the government would not diminish the party’s role as the opposition.

“The opposition party must have a dialogue with the government. We continue to keep our stand and our conscience; we will fight for the people to have better living standards and respect for human rights,” opposition lawmaker Chea Poch said.

“If the government does well, we will support the government. If they do wrong, we will give constructive criticism,” he said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann said an apology was a small price to pay for his leader’s return.

“We must sacrifice something in order to solve the problem. This is his concession for his return,” Ho Vann said. “We cannot have an opposition party with a body but without a head.”

Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphan said that Sam Rainsy’s letters showed that he accepted responsibility for his defamatory statements. It was now time for cooperation, he said.

“I welcome all political parties co­operating with each other because we have had this dispute for a long time,” he added.

Sam Rainsy Party member Cheam Chhun, who was badly in­jured by shrapnel along his left side in the 1997 grenade attack, said Sam Rainsy had done the right thing.

“I am very happy about this letter. This letter will allow Sam Rain­sy to come back,” said Cheam Chhun, 64, as he sat in the shade at opposition headquarters.

“Sam Rainsy will not sell out. Sam Rainsy will stand firm,” he added.

Regardless of Sam Rainsy’s apology, Cheam Chhun said that Hun Sen could not entirely wash his hands of the 1997 attack.

“I don’t know the real killer, but Hun Sen is at the head of the government, so he is responsible,” Cheam Chhun said. “I will forget this matter for a while. Then I will think of justice for myself.”


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