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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 04:48 GMT
Sam Rainsy returns to Cambodia
Sam Rainsy arriving in Phnom Penh
Sam Rainsy was greeted by thousands of supporters
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has returned home following a year of self-imposed exile in France.

"I'm very happy!" Mr Rainsy shouted as he arrived in Phnom Penh airport, where he was greeted by 2,000 supporters.

In December Mr Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in jail, for defaming the country's leaders.

But he was granted a royal pardon last Sunday, and has promised to change his confrontational attitude towards Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Speaking to reporters on his arrival, Sam Rainsy said he planned to hold talks with Hun Sen soon, and was committed to putting aside past disagreements.

"Democracy requires all leaders to talk to each other to find a solution for the nation," he said. "I will do whatever it takes for the country to progress."

While this apparent rapprochement has been hailed by some foreign governments as a welcome sign of increasing democracy in Cambodia, rights groups warn that repression still exists.

Royal pardon

Sam Rainsy had been in France since last February, after fleeing Cambodia when he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

Then in December, a court sentenced him to 18 months in jail for defaming both Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

But he received a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni last week.

The catalyst for the pardon appears to have been a letter that Mr Rainsy sent to the prime minister last Friday.

In it he apologised for linking Hun Sen to a fatal grenade attack on a Sam Rainsy Party rally nine years ago.

He also indicated he would be less abrasive towards the government in future.

This has left some Sam Rainsy Party supporters feeling perplexed and a few are even angry at what they see as a climbdown, according to BBC correspondent Guy De Launey.

Much of Sam Rainsy's appeal has been based around his fierce criticism of the government.

But elections are still two years away, leaving plenty of time for a change of stance, our correspondent says.

See Sam Rainsy returning home

Cambodia's Rainsy plans return
07 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodian leader drops lawsuits
24 Jan 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Pardon for Cambodian exile Rainsy
05 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia sentences Sam Rainsy
22 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Sam Rainsy
03 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Cambodia
08 Jan 05 |  Country profiles

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