Press Release
February 9, 2006

Drilon hails granting of pardon to Cambodian opposition leader

MANILA, Feb. 9 --- Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is also president of the Liberal Party of the Philippines and concurrent chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals (CALD), today lauded the granting of a royal pardon by King Norodom Sihamoni to Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a Member of Parliament who has been in self-imposed exile for a year.

In December, a Cambodian court sentenced Rainsy in absentia to 18 months in jail for allegedly defaming the leaders of the governing coalition. The surprise request for a pardon came from his long-time adversary, Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Rainsy went to France last year after losing immunity from prosecution. Earlier this week, Rainsy and Hun Sen agreed to make an effort at reconciliation.

Opposition MP Cheam Channy, who has spent a year in prison, was also pardoned and was expected to be freed soon. Both men will likely have their parliamentary immunity reinstated.

In a statement, Drilon urged the Cambodian authorities to ensure the safe return of Rainsy from his exile in Paris. "In behalf of the CALD, we extend our profound gratitude to His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni for granting the royal pardon to Honorable Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition of Cambodia and former CALD Chairman."

"This is a positive step towards the easing of political tensions between the ruling coalition and oppositionists and towards meaningful reconciliation," Drilon added. "We are confident that this development will ensure the safe return of Sam Rainsy after his year long exile in Paris."

"We are also delighted over the release of parliamentarian Cheam Channy after a year of incarceration in a Phnom Penh jail. We are likewise relieved that various human rights activists and other civil leaders have also been released after a series of arrests early this year," Drilon further said.

"We are hopeful that the easing of political tension will result in the immediate and unconditional restoration of the parliamentary immunity of Messrs. Rainsy, Cheam and Chea Poch who were stripped of their immunity on February 3, 2005 by the Cambodian National Assembly," Drilon said. "We appeal to both the Cambodian government and the opposition to pave the way for meaningful engagement and dialogue."

Rainsy had accused Hun Sen of involvement in a grenade attack on an opposition rally eight years ago. But a court ruled there was no evidence to support the accusation.

The court also found Rainsy guilty of defaming Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the National Assembly president, by accusing him of taking bribes to have his royalist Funcinpec party join Hun Sen's government.

In his statement, Drilon also announced that CALD will be holding a major international conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia this April focusing on the theme "Public Accountability in Overseas Development Assistance."

"We hope that this conference can serve as a venue where both the ruling government and the opposition can seat together to discuss important issues and concerns affecting the welfare and future of Cambodia," Drilon said.

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