PHNOM PENH — Cambodian opposition leader in exile Sam Rainsy was on
Friday pardoned by the king, according to a royal decree seen by AFP,
clearing the way for his return ahead of national elections.
pardon was requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen "in the spirit of
reconciliation", a government official told AFP on condition of
anonymity, adding that Rainsy had "no right" to run as a candidate in
the July 28 polls.
Rainsy lives in exile in France and had faced
11 years in jail if he returned to Cambodia after being convicted in
absentia for charges that included publishing a "false map" of the
border with Vietnam.
He wrote to King Sihamoni in June requesting a
pardon, and recently vowed to return in a move his party hailed as a
boost to its chances in elections this month.
"He is preparing to
return to Cambodia very soon," a spokesman for the opposition Cambodian
National Rescue Party, Yim Sovann, told AFP.
US lawmakers have called for the United States to cut off aid to Cambodia unless Hun Sen allows a free vote.
Sen is one of Southeast Asia's longest-serving leaders and has steered
the impoverished country from the ashes of civil war and overseen a
growing economy through development, tourism, and garment exports.
But his government is regularly accused of suppressing political freedoms and muzzling activists.
May Hun Sen said he would try to stay in power for another decade,
until he is 74. He has previously vowed to hold office until he reaches