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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 11:44 GMT
Sam Rainsy appeal on Cambodia
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks to media prior to the National Assembly session in Phnom Penh, 03 February 2004
Sam Rainsy has been an outspoken government critic
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called on the international community to intervene in a political crisis enveloping his country.

Sam Rainsy left Cambodia on Thursday after he and two other MPs were stripped of parliamentary immunity.

The three now face defamation charges, and if found guilty, hefty fines or even jail sentences.

Sam Rainsy, who is now in Paris, said he would be meeting government officials in Europe and North America.

The charges against him stem from Sam Rainsy's allegations that the government plotted to kill its political rivals, and that coalition partner Prince Ranariddh took bribes to join the government.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Sam Rainsy said developed nations should use their economic leverage to put political pressure on Cambodia in light of the latest development.

"Cambodia is a very poor country with an authoritarian government. That government cannot survive without international assistance. The international community should help put Cambodia on the right path," he said.

1949: Born in Phnom Penh
1965: Leaves Cambodia for France
1989: Becomes Funcinpec's European representative
1993: Back in Cambodia, becomes finance minister
1994: Expelled from Funcinpec
1995: Founds the Khmer Nation Party, later renamed the Sam Rainsy Party
2003: Party polls 22% in general election
2005: Leaves the country after losing parliamentary immunity

"The ruling parties are repressing the opposition. They want the opposition to be completely silent," he said.

He said that he was waiting for a summons specifying the charges against him before he returned to Cambodia to face them.

In the meantime, he would be meeting government and human rights officials abroad, he said in an email sent to the media.

Earlier, Sam Rainsy's party said it would ask Cambodia's king to intervene. A spokesman for his party said he would send a letter to the king to ask that the MPs' immunity be restored.

"They should not have been stripped as parliamentarians when all they did was express their own opinions," Eng Chhay Eang said.

The government "have kicked out the opposition voice", he said, adding that Sam Rainsy Party MPs were planning to boycott parliament for a period of time in protest.

Sam Rainsy is believed to have travelled first to Bangkok and then to Paris.

Cheam Channy was taken into custody by police on Thursday afternoon, and has reportedly been charged with starting an anti-Hun Sen militia.

Chea Poch is in hiding, Sam Rainsy said.

Long-running tensions

Prime Minister Hun Sen first filed a libel suit against Sam Rainsy last year, for accusing the government of plotting to kill its political rivals.
Hun Sen, 3 Jan
After parliament's decision, Prime Minister Hun Sen was unrepentant

The other party in the coalition government, Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Funcinpec Party, has also begun defamation action against Sam Rainsy.

Sam Rainsy alleged that Prince Ranariddh took bribes to join forces with Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party to form the government - a move Funcinpec denies.

A US senator said in a statement late on Thursday that Washington should take tough action against Cambodia for stripping Sam Rainsy of his immunity.

Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said the move was "outrageous and unacceptable", and urged the US State Department to respond in "a forceful and appropriate manner".

The US embassy in Phnom Penh also condemned the parliament's decision on Thursday.

"We are deeply concerned that the National Assembly has chosen to occupy itself with political activity that appears to be designed to silence the opposition," it said in a statement.

But Prince Ranariddh was unrepentant.

"I think this a Cambodian domestic issue. We have the full right to solve it according to the rule of the laws of Cambodia," he is quoted as saying by Reuters news agency on Friday.

Cambodia opposition calls on king
04 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Sam Rainsy
03 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Cambodia
08 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Cambodian PM's party wins poll
31 Jul 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Violence haunts Cambodian polls
06 Mar 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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