September 11, 2018 / 5:56 AM / 14 days ago

U.S. urges Cambodia to remove restrictions against opposition leader

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The United States urged Cambodia’s government on Tuesday to drop all charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was released on bail but has been placed under house arrest.

FILE PHOTO - Cambodia's opposition leader and President of the National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha talks during an interview with Reuters in Prey Veng province, Cambodia May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring/File Picture

Kem Sokha was released from prison on Monday after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges but remains under house arrest in the capital, Phnom Penh. He was arrested last September as part of a government-led crackdown against critics.

“The U.S. government has taken note of Mr. Sokha’s transfer to house arrest, which falls far short of a full release, as well as the recent freeing of other political prisoners,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg said in an email.

“We continue to call on the government of Cambodia to drop all charges against Mr. Sokha, remove restrictions on the political rights of him and other opposition leaders, and engage opposition leaders in an urgent dialogue aimed at building genuine national reconciliation,” she said.

Kem Sokha, 65, is the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved as part of the crackdown. The crackdown came before a July 29 general election.

Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 parliamentary seats in the election, which the United Nations and some Western countries have said was flawed because of the lack of a credible opposition, among other factors.

Restrictions placed on Kem Sokha include a ban on him meeting CNRP officials.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the conditions of Kem Sokha’s bail were decided by the court.

“This is the court’s jurisdiction that no institution, no NGO or no foreign country can interfere with,” Phay Siphan said.

Hun Sen had been under pressure to release Kem Sokha and observers say he has been relaxing his stance against critics since the July election win, which secured him another five years in power.

Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Paul Tait

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