Page last updated at 04:13 GMT, Friday, 1 January 2010

Cambodia issues Sam Rainsy arrest warrant

Cambodia opposition leader Sam Rainsy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 4 August 2009
Sam Rainsy is currently thought to be in France

The Cambodian government has issued an arrest warrant against opposition leader Sam Rainsy for failing to appear in court over a border dispute.

Mr Rainsy is alleged to have encouraged villagers to uproot markers on the frontier with Vietnam in October 2009.

Mr Rainsy has claimed that Vietnam is encroaching on Cambodian territory, a highly sensitive issue.

The Cambodia's parliament stripped opposition leader Sam Rainsy of his immunity from prosecution in November.

"The arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy was issued on Tuesday by Svay Rieng provincial court," Sam Rainsy's lawyer Choung Chou Ngy told AFP.

No show

In an email from France, Mr Rainsy told Reuters he would not appear in court because the case against him was politically motivated.

"The court in Cambodia is just a political tool for the ruling party to crack down on the opposition," he said.

"I will let this politically subservient court prosecute me in absentia because its verdict is known in advance."

Mr Rainsy's lawyer said the opposition leader had been charged with inciting racial discrimination and intentionally damaging property when he allegedly uprooted the border markings saying they were illegally placed by Vietnam.

A Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann called the move was "a plan organised by the ruling party to intimidate and to threaten members of opposition party".

"Sam Rainsy has done nothing wrong. He just fulfilled his duty as a member of parliament," he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the court was acting independently of politics and that anyone summoned to court should appear.

Vietnam is a growing investor in Cambodia.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding at a forum in Ho Chi Minh City on 26 December to support billions of dollars of Vietnamese investments.

Cambodia and Vietnam officially began demarcating their contentious border in September 2006, in a bid to end decades of territorial disputes.

The 1,270-kilometre (790-mile) border has remained essentially unmarked and vague since French colonial times, with stone markers and boundary flags having disappeared, while trees once lining it were cut down.

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