Country Report Cambodia February 2010

The political scene: The government orders the arrest of the opposition leader

On December 28th the government, led by the prime minister, Hun Sen, issued an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy, the leader of the main opposition party, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), for refusing to appear in a provincial court to answer charges relating to a protest on the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. In late October Sam Rainsy and a group of villagers allegedly uprooted six border markers in a south-eastern province, Svay Rieng, in protest against a 2005 border treaty that they claim ceded Cambodian territory to Vietnam. Sam Rainsy, who is believed to be in France, had said that he would not appear at court because the charges against him were politically motivated.

Sam Rainsy and other opposition figures have for years faced harassment by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). In recent months CPP officials have charged at least nine opposition figures with defamation or similar offences-crimes that can carry a prison sentence in Cambodia. Sam Rainsy was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution twice in 2009, once in February and again in November. The latest arrest warrant against him will heighten concerns that Cambodia is becoming a de facto one-party state in which the CPP refuses to tolerate any challenge to its hold on executive power.

Cambodia's relations with Vietnam are an especially sensitive issue for Hun Sen, whose rise to power was aided by the backing of the Communist Party of Vietnam, which occupied Cambodia in the 1980s. Today Vietnam is one of Cambodia's main trade and investment partners. In 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, total trade between the two countries was worth US$1.7bn, representing a rise of 40% from 2007. Both countries have said they hope that trade between them will reach US$2bn this year and that Vietnamese investment in Cambodia will increase in the coming years.

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