Khmer Times/Taing Vida Thursday, 12 January 2017 837 views

Minister, opposition meeting delayed

Parliament has not received any notification of a meeting between the leaders of the ruling party and the opposition despite earlier claims from the government side that a meeting would be held yesterday.
 

The meeting was to be held to discuss a variety of issues, including the release of human rights workers who have been in prison for more than six months without a trial.
 

Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who also serves as deputy prime minister and majority leader of the ruling party in the National Assembly (NA), wrote last week to opposition leader Kem Sokha saying a meeting would be held on or after January 11.
 

The letter came after the two sides failed to meet in December, which was attributed to Mr. Kheng’s busy schedule.
 

Leng Peng Long, the secretary-general and spokesman for the NA, told Khmer Times yesterday that he had received no notice of any potential meeting between the two leaders.
 

“Unless there is a notification, parliament will coordinate and conduct the meeting. Personally, I think the meeting is good for both parties to solve the remaining issues,” he said.
 

However, Mr. Kheng has repeatedly pushed back the date of the meeting with Mr. Sokha despite promising to speak with him about releasing the five human rights workers before the new year.
 

Yem Ponhearith, an opposition CNRP member and a spokesman for the party, said they are waiting for a response from the ruling party about the date of the meeting, but have yet to hear back from them.
 

“So far, we do not have any information about the meeting,” he said.
 

“We have not yet set agendas for the meeting but mainly, we would focus on the remaining political issues such as how to find a way to release the political activists, how to coordinate work better between the two groups, etc.”
 

Yim Sovann, another spokesman for the party, said the meeting depended on the “political willingness” of the ruling CPP to sit down and discuss pertinent issues affecting the country.
 

The CNRP is ready and waiting for the meeting to take place as soon as possible, he told Khmer Times.
 

In response to questions about when the meeting would take place, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Mr. Kheng was “busy” and the meeting could take place any day of this year after the 11th.
 

“He [Mr. Kheng] has a lot of work both in the country and in the provinces. He does not just sit and wait for the meeting with the CNRP,” he said.
 

“He said after the 11th, so it could be any day on the 20th or the 30th of this month. For the negotiations, not all of the issues would be in place to discuss, so the CNRP should consider this.”
 

Relations between the two parties have taken a positive tone since Mr. Sokha and another opposition party member were pardoned on December 7 after months of uncertainty and bad blood on both ends of the political spectrum.
 

After Mr. Sokha was given a royal pardon, Mr. Kheng told reporters at the NA that the two leaders would meet later that month and promised to release the four Adhoc officials and one election committee member who were arrested in connection to a bribery case relating to a sex scandal involving Mr. Sokha.
 

Since that statement, Mr. Kheng has repeatedly pushed the meeting back and dodged questions about when the five – who many international and local rights groups say are in prison on politically motivated charges – would be released.
 

Despite being in jail for more than six months, the human rights workers have yet to receive a court date and all bail requests have been denied.
 

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has closed the investigation into the five, but it has yet to move the process forward. Lawyers representing those detained say they believe the judge is damaging the country’s court procedures by refusing to advance the trial.
 

Sam Sokong, a defense lawyer for the five human rights officials, filed a complaint to the municipal court, asking them it to either proceed faster with the case or drop the charges.
 

“This is wrong in terms of procedure since the judge has yet to issue a solution warrant about whether to drop the charges or set a hearing for more than a month,” he said.
 

The four Adhoc officials – Nai Vongda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony – as well as National Election Committee official Ny Chakrya, were charged with bribing a witness and conspiracy to bribe a witness after providing legal assistance to the alleged mistress of Mr. Sokha.
 

His purported mistress, Khom Chandaraty, told police during interrogation that she had been bribed by Adhoc officials to deny her relationship with Mr. Sokha.
 

The rights group says the money provided to Ms. Chandaraty was a standard stipend given to all beneficiaries they assist and the alleged mistress’s mother has publicly denied she was ever given any money by either Adhoc or CNRP officials.
 

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for the exoneration and release of the five officials, saying their detention was a clear violation of international human rights.

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