Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay on Thursday evening welcomed the news that party member Cheam Channy’s prison sentence will be slashed from seven to three years, meaning he could be released in 2008.
The news came one day after Son Chhay said the opposition was prepared to compromise with Hun Sen to try and secure Cheam Channy’s release.
But Son Chhay—who said Wednesday that the opposition was willing to cease its calls for international pressure against the government and tone down its opposition to Hun Sen’s leadership—said any such compromise remains a long way off.
“At least some action has been taken by the prime minister. It’s encouraging, but why [cut] four years?” Son Chhay said. “Why not just let him go?”
“It will take a few more years before Cambodian factions learn to trust each other and use compromise and dialogue,” he added.
Son Chhay claimed the opposition was informed by a source in Hun Sen’s cabinet about six days ago that if Son Chhay made a conciliatory public statement and Cheam Channy’s wife and lawyer formally requested his release, Hun Sen would be more likely to do so.
“We worked very hard to get everything together” in the days that followed, Son Chhay said.
However, at 6:30 am on Wednesday, Cambodian Television Network newsreader Soy Sopheap appeared on CTN news and said he had received information from Hun Sen’s cabinet that the deal was off.
“He’s some kind of passive spokesman for the prime minister,” Son Chhay said of Soy Sopheap, noting that he also helped orchestrate a telephone conversation between Hun Sen and Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha last month.
Soy Sopheap declined to discuss Son Chhay’s claims, while Information Minister Khieu Kanharith would not say whether Soy Sopheap is an unofficial government spokesman.
Khieu Kanharith also accused Son Chhay of not having permission from opposition leader Sam Rainsy or acting party president Kong Korm to make his offer. Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Son Chhay’s initial offer of compromise could have been a good thing.
“The personal attacks [between politicians] should be reduced,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)