Thursday, December 31, 2009

Arrest warrant issued for Cambodian opposition leader


Phnom Penh - A Cambodian court has issued an arrest warrant for the leader of the main opposition party after he failed to appear in court earlier this week, a government spokesman confirmed Thursday.

The move follows an incident in October in which opposition leader Sam Rainsy was accused of removing border markers between Cambodia and Vietnam, an act that riled Hanoi.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the Svay Rieng provincial court issued the arrest warrant after Sam Rainsy missed the hearing to answer charges of racial incitement and destruction of property.

'He was meant to show up in court on the 28th [of December],' Phay Siphan told the German Press Agency dpa. 'He is out of the country so they issued a warrant on the 29th.'

Sam Rainsy was charged after he had joined villagers in Svay Rieng province and uprooted several wooden posts marking the border.He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity the following month in a vote that was boycotted by the opposition.

Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann said Sam Rainsy, who is currently in France, would not return to Cambodia until a political solution to the court case was in place.

'We do not trust the court because it is a political tool of the ruling party to crack down on the opposition,' he said, adding that the opposition would petition the king to resolve the issue.

'Sam Rainsy has done nothing wrong - as a member of parliament he has to represent the people,' he said. 'This is a political problem and [it] must be solved by a political solution.'

Yim Sovann blamed the authorities for planting the demarcation poles without consulting local farmers, who object to losing land to Vietnam.

'So now [the farmers] are losing land because of these demarcation poles - the people do not agree with that because they have only a few hectares of land to feed their families, and now they are losing everything,' he said.

The two nations are currently demarcating their 1,270-kilometre long common border in a process that is scheduled to be completed by 2012.

Vietnam is a key investor in Cambodia with significant interests in agribusiness, aviation, telecoms and banking. In December the two nations signed an agreement that could result in investments worth billions of US dollars, including a deal to look for bauxite in Cambodia's border province of Mondulkiri.

Three opposition parliamentarians were stripped of their parliamentary immunity in 2009. Critics charge that the ruling Cambodian People's Party is using the courts to move against its perceived opponents in politics, the media and civil society.

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