Cambodia to ease grip on opposition, media as EU threats loom

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia said that banned opposition members may be allowed back into political life and shuttered media outlets could reopen as the EU considers pulling a trade deal the country is loath to lose.

Numerous activists, journalists and government critics were released from jail in the months after strongman Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all parliamentary seats in July elections held without the main opposition party.

But the concessions did not deter the European Union from threatening in October to suspend trade benefits in the wake of the vote – a move that would cripple the country’s billion-dollar garment industry, its largest formal employer.

Though Hun Sen has baulked at the idea that international pressure can force his hand, analysts say the Cambodian leader is in a tough spot.

The Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in a ruling a year ago as Hun Sen homed in on critics before the vote, accusing the party’s leader of attempting to overthrow the government.

More than 100 CNRP members were banned from politics, many of whom fled the country or retreated from public affairs.

But Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday that in the spirit of national reconciliation and to broaden democratic space parliament was reviewing legislation allowing “individuals who were banned from politics to resume their political activities”.

The statement did not mention the EU deal but said court cases involving unions could be expedited and news outlets could be allowed to return if it paid errant tax bills.

It also did not bring up CNRP co-founder Kem Sokha, who was accused of treason during the crackdown. — AFP