Lawmaker Chea Poch Returns to Phnom Penh

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Chea Poch, who fled Cambodia in February after his parliamentary immunity was lifted by the Nation­al Assembly, returned to Phnom Penh from the US on Monday with­out incident, and said he was determined to get back to work.

Some had feared the opposition lawmaker could be detained upon his arrival. Questions about the timing of his return remain, coming so close to the jailing of opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy last week.

Cheam Channy was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly forming an illegal armed force and related fraud charges, in a trial condemned by the US government and human rights groups.

“I have no worries about [my security],” Chea Poch said at a brief impromptu news conference at Phnom Penh International airport. “What worries me is the hunger of the people and that many children are not going to school.”

Chea Poch left Cambodia for Malaysia on Feb 4 after he was stripped of his parliamentary im­munity to allow a criminal case lodged by Prince Norodom Rana­rid­dh who has accused him of de­famation. Chea Poch said he did not return because of a court summons.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, and Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elec­­tions, on Monday suggested a deal may have been reached between the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party to guarantee the opposition lawmakers’ safe return.

Koul Panha said he had heard such rumors, explaining that moderate lawmakers from the two parties’ steering committees may have met informally to iron out a com­promise.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy in an e-mail Monday flatly denied that any deal had been reached, as did opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay.

“We made no deal,” Son Chhay said. “We are not going to continue our strong confrontations with political leaders here.” he said. “We hope the ruling party will soften its position.”

Son Chhay said he hoped this strategy would help stop the volleys of lawsuits between party leaders and let both parties concentrate instead on solving Cam­bodia’s problems.

But Heng Samrin, first vice president of the National Assembly, suggested the “soft approach” was not a shared philosophy.

“They still have to face the court if the court wants them to,” he said, adding that there had been no compromise with the opposition party.

Chea Vannath urged both parties to stop their legal fights and instead work on reducing what she described as an “increasing gap between poor and rich.”

“The leaders need to get serious, be accountable, serve the country, serve the people and not their own interests,” she said.



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