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Cambodian PM orders release on bail of detained opposition activists

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, center, greets his government officers during the country's 66th Independence Day from France, at the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Vithy Soth)

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday ordered the release on bail of some 70 activists who were supportive of the planned return last weekend of the self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Speaking at the opening of a new cement factory in the country's southern province of Kampot, Hun Sen ordered Justice Ministry officials to take necessary steps to ensure the release on bail of the detainees.

The prime minister took the view that those people were deceived by Sam Rainsy, acting president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, but said his government was justified in detaining them in order to maintain peace and stability in the country.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International urged Cambodian authorities to cease their campaign of arbitrarily arresting and prosecuting CNRP-linked activists and release all prisoners held for peacefully exercising their rights.

It said since August, at least 41 former CNRP members have been jailed and 88 have been subject to politically motivated charges including "plotting against the state" and "attack" for allegedly supporting the return to Cambodia of CNRP leaders living abroad, including Sam Rainsy.

Sam Rainsy, 70, who fled Cambodia in 2015 and lives in Paris, is wanted by Cambodian authorities for allegedly plotting a coup and faces a slew of outstanding court cases and convictions.

He had planned to return home on last Saturday's national independence day by crossing the land border from Thailand, but he was prevented from boarding a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok on Nov. 7 on the Thai prime minister's order.

He instead flew into Malaysia on Saturday and spent a few days there before flying to Indonesia on Thursday morning.

After arriving at Jakarta's international airport, he told reporters that he will be in the Indonesian capital for a few days and will meet with some parliamentarians.

The CNRP was forcibly dissolved by a court order ahead of the July 2018 general election, with 118 of its leaders banned from politics for five years.

The absence of a genuine opposition to contest the polls enabled the ruling Cambodian People's Party to secure all 125 seats in the legislature and Hun Sen to extend his 33-year rule for another five years.

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