France Pushes Hun Sen on Human Rights Record
By and | February 7, 2013

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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The Supreme Court on Tuesday began a three-day hearing to re-examine a trio of cases involving disgraced former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who was convicted of a slew of crimes by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and is currently serving a 98-year prison sentence.

Two Cambodian hackers who once sought to topple the government by infiltrating its websites to reveal sensitive information were yesterday handed a suspended sentence, released from prison and ordered to work for the Interior Ministry, according to their attorney and a ministry official.

The Ministry of Culture on Tuesday introduced the country’s first strategic cultural policy, an ambitious plan that includes setting up provincial cultural centers, launching arts education in schools, holding annual cultural events and promoting individual artists.

A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier and a Thai counterpart were injured Monday in a shoot-out near the Ang Sas border checkpoint in Preah Vihear province, according to military officials, marking the first exchange of fire between the two countries since the Thai military ousted the elected government in May.

A senior Foreign Ministry official on Monday said Cambodia’s controversial handling of Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam more than a decade ago gave the government the necessary credentials to resettle refugees it will soon take off Australia’s hands as part of a deal signed Friday.

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