The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault raised concerns over the controversial convictions against opposition leader Sam Rainsy and independent radio station owner Mam Sonando during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday, France’s ambassador-in-waiting said on Tuesday.
Mr. Ayrault was on a two-day visit to Phnom Penh to attend Monday’s cremation of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
“The [French] prime minister …raised all the matters with Prime Minister Hun Sen, including the political matters,” said Serge Mostura, who is awaiting confirmation as France’s next ambassador to Cambodia.
“He raised the cases that we all know about, the case of Mr. Sam Rainsy, the case of Mr. Mam Sonando, both of whom have French nationality,” he told reporters at a briefing at the French Embassy.
Mr. Ayrault also spoke to Mr. Hun Sen about French reporter Daniel Laine, who was convicted of procuring prostitution in absentia and handed a seven-year jail sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2010 in a decision upheld by the court last week, Mr. Mostura said.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen took note of our position and took note of our concerns and he took note of our remarks,” Mr. Mostura added. “Our dialogue was open and I hope there will be positive future developments.”
Mr. Rainsy, who leads the country’s political opposition to the ruling CPP, is living in France in self-imposed exile to avoid an 11-year jail sentence for uprooting wooden posts marking Cambodia’s unofficial border with Vietnam and for posting maps of the frontier online. Mr. Sonando, an independent radio station owner and popular government critic, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in October for allegedly fomenting a rural secessionist movement.
Both men, their supporters, and many independent observers, consider the charges to be politically motivated by a court system at the beck and call of a ruling party intolerant of any serious challenge to its authority.
Mr. Laine’s lawyers, along with a local rights group and an international press freedoms group, say he was framed in retaliation for his work as a journalist exposing Cambodia’s sex trade.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he had no knowledge of Sunday’s meeting and referred questions to members of Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet, who could not be reached.
Mr. Sonando’s wife, Dinn Phannara, said Mr. Ayrault had enquired after her husband during a dinner at the French Embassy on Sunday.
“He asked about Sonando’s condition and his health in prison,” she said. “He also expressed his support for Sonando and encouraged him; he said he had asked the embassy to monitor his situation closely.”
Ms. Phannara said her 71-year-old husband has regularly complained of having a cold since his arrest in July and of suffering from a toothache and diarrhea.
U.S. President Barack Obama also raised Mr. Sonando’s case with Mr. Hun Sen while attending a regional summit here in November, calling him a political prisoner and urging his release at the risk of stalling bilateral relations.
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