Cambodian leader meets rival who faces treason charges

Cambodian leader meets rival who faces treason charges

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen met Tuesday with an opposition leader whose political party was dissolved after he was charged with treason.

They met when Kem Sokha, who led the Cambodia National Rescue Party, paid his respects at Hun Sen’s residence for the death of the prime minister’s mother-in-law.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said they did not discuss political issues or Kem Sokha’s court case.

“This is Cambodian culture, even if one is a rival or opponent, when one side has lost their loved one, the other side should come to pay respects,” he said.

Photos published on Fresh News, an online news agency close to the government, showed Kem Sokha in a black business suit and Hun Sen in loose white clothing that is traditional mourning attire. The two men were pictured side by side and talking for what Fresh News said was 50 minutes.

Kem Sokha’s lawyer, Meng Sopheary, confirmed the meeting but declined to say what the men discussed.

Although the meeting was said to be non-political, the coverage by Fresh News, which showed both parties in a flattering light, is likely to fuel talk of some kind of reconciliation.

Hun Sen, who has been in power for 35 years, is an adroit political operator who has a history of allowing his once-bitter opponents to operate if they no longer pose a serious threat to him.

Kem Sokha was head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party when he was arrested in September 2017 on the basis of an old video showing him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups. His party was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 on the same basis.

The actions were widely seen as a way to ensure a victory by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in the 2018 general election. Hun Sen’s party won all the seats in the National Assembly in the polls, but drew condemnation from human rights groups and Western nations, which charged that the election was neither free nor fair.

Kem Sokha’s trial started in January, but was adjourned in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak. He could be imprisoned for up to 30 years if found guilty.

The courts late last year allowed Kem Sokha to be released on bail after a period of tightly restricted house arrest, but he is still banned from political activity.

Sam Rainsy, the co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is in exile, avoiding criminal convictions he says are politically inspired. He was the de facto leader of the party while Kem Sokha was in prison before his release on bail. There is tension between supporters of the two opposition leaders because some feel Kem Sokha had to face severe pressure from Hun Sen’s government while Sam Rainsy was free in exile.

Sam Rainsy on his Facebook account posted a May 4 letter from Paris in which he also gave his condolences for the death of Hun Sen’s mother in-law. He recalled that Hun Sen had expressed his condolences in 2016 after the death of his own mother-in-law.

Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey. Photo Submitted
Rimbey hotel gets new lease on life

The Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey is now open and taking bookings

Leanne Evans, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Program Coordinator, accepts a donation of $5,000 from Kevin Maxwell manager of Field Support for Telus. (Photo Submitted)
Rimbey Neighbourhood Place making big changes behind the scenes

Rimbey Neighbourhood Place recently recieved a $5,000 donation from Telus

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

File photo
RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

The project is expected to create up to 2,920 direct jobs during construction, the federal release said

Most Read