| PHNOM PENH
PHNOM PENH Aug 8 Opposition lawmakers returned
to Cambodia's parliament on Friday after a year-long boycott and
vowed along with the ruling party to bury the hatchet and work
for the country after a bitter dispute over an election last
Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party
(CNRP), called for unity and said a political deal on July 22
with the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to end an at
times violent crisis would bring a new chapter of history.
"Both sides have shown goodwill, honesty and trust," Sam
Rainsy said in his address to parliament.
"We need to eliminate the culture of violence and revenge.
We need to create a new culture of peace, talk with respect of
for other and find peaceful resolution to all issues."
Sam Rainsy has long been a rival to self-styled "strongman",
Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose nearly three decades of
authoritarian rule has largely kept the peace in the turbulent
democracy, but not without international criticism.
The CNRP rejected the CPP's 2013 election victory,
complaining of widespread voter fraud and ruling party
interference in the election commission, which will be revamped
under the deal between the two sides.
Hun Sen said the two parties had agreed to work together and
his opponents would refrain from whipping up anti-Vietnam
sentiment for political gain. The CNRP has accused Hun Sen of
being a "puppet" of historic foe Vietnam.
"What we agreed was that we are already old, so we must do
good deeds for our people," Hun Sen said in his address to the
Experts say it is too soon to tell whether the truce will
last and some anticipate turbulence in the months ahead because
of their testy history. Most agree that CNRP's growing
popularity has boosted its bargaining power over a prime
minister who rarely compromises.
The CNRP's previous incarnation, the Sam Rainsy Party, was
for years an impotent force but that all changed last year when
the CNRP tapped domestic disenchantment over land grabs, low
factory wages and the ruling party's pro-China stance.
It whittled down the CPP's parliamentary majority then
hamstrung the government by refusing to take its seats in
It also joined forces with unions representing 400,000
workers in the $5 billion garment sector and supported protests
and strikes for higher pay. Security forces responded harshly
several times, killing at least four people.
The political deal does not mean an end to the turmoil in
the garment sector, which supplies apparel to GAP, Nike
and Hennes & Mauritz among others.
The sector is Cambodia's biggest export earner and unions
are still at odds with the government over a $100 minimum
monthly wage, which the CNRP had pledged in the run-up to the
2013 election to increase to $160.
Eight unions, representing some 300,000 workers, will renew
their campaign for a raise to $177, saying the two political
parties were not responding to their demands.
"In case that there is no sufficient resolution on wage
demands, strikes will explode," Pav Sina, president of the
Collective Union Movement of Workers told Reuters, adding that
could happen in October.
CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth told Reuters the party's stance
towards garment workers was "still the same". Asked if the CNRP
would support strikes, she said: "We don't want a crisis
(Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel)