December 2, 2017 / 11:42 AM / 13 days ago

Cambodian PM pulls back on threat to shut rights group founded by rival

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has pulled back from a threat to close a human rights group founded by the detained opposition leader Kem Sokha, a pro-government website said on Saturday.

The move follows a visit by Hun Sen to Cambodia’s main ally China and comes as the veteran leader is under fire from Western donors for a crackdown on the opposition.

The rights group, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, was founded in 2002 by Kem Sokha, who was arrested in September and charged with treason for an alleged plot to take power with American help.

“The government decided to keep (CCHR) so it continues to serve human rights activities in Cambodia, and as a result of the Ministry of Interior’s finding, there are no illegal acts,” Hun Sen was quoted as saying by Freshnews.

Kem Sokha has rejected the charges against him, which the opposition calls a ploy to ensure Hun Sen extends his more than three decades in power at next year’s election.

Kem Sokha’s party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved on Nov. 16 by the Supreme Court, acting at the government’s request.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany hold a ceremony at the Angkor Wat temple to pray for peace and stability in Cambodia, in Siem Reap province, Cambodia December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

In response to the crackdown, the United States has stopped funding for the election and the European Union has raised a potential threat to Cambodia’s duty free access if it does not respect human rights.

The statement was released as Hun Sen held a two-day ceremony at the famed Angkor Wat temple to pray for peace and stability in Cambodia. He sat beside his wife Bun Rany and pressed his hands together while Buddhist monks chanted prayers.

Slideshow (9 Images)

Mu Sochua, a deputy to Kem Sokha who fled the crackdown in Cambodia, said the nation’s deep divisions could not be healed in one ceremony.

“Peace for Cambodia can not be achieved through just a ceremony. Peace is about full respect of human rights, freedoms, liberties and rule of law,” Mu Sochua told Reuters.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the rights group CCHR, said she and other staffs were “incredibly relieved” by the news.

“With this investigation out of the way, we can get back to focusing on our core mission, the work of promoting respect for human rights in Cambodia,” Chak Sopheap said in a Facebook post.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Ros Russell

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