Khmer News in En

Cambodian Real Estate Firm Defrauds Lao Investors

A Cambodian-owned real estate firm operating in the Lao capital Vientiane has halted payments to its investors, defrauding them of an estimated $10 million, sources say.

On March 27, angry clients gathered at Asian Face, a firm belonging to Cambodian businessman Huot Sovann, to demand their money back, prompting the owner to offer them properties in lieu of cash.

Asian Face had operated in Vientiane’s Chantaboury district since 2015 and stopped payments in September last year, one investor told RFA’s Lao Service.

“After not being paid returns on their investments since September, the company’s clients decided to withdraw their money and close their accounts, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But the company refused to give them their money, and tried to delay payment by scheduling new appointments for pay-outs on March 27.”

Over 300 clients came to the company on that date, but no staff were there to talk to them, he said.

Following investors’ complaints, police in Vientiane’s Chanthaboury district seized Huot Sovann’s passport and took him into custody, the source said.

Interest rates on offer at Asian Face had ranged from eight to 30 percent of the value of individual deposits per month, the source said, adding that the company had paid these out through August 2016 and gave no explanation for its sudden inability to continue distributions.

Ongoing investigation

Speaking to RFA on March 29, a Chanthaboury district police officer said that his office had released no reports on the case so far.

“The investigation has not been completed, and we are still collecting information.”

“If the company and its clients cannot resolve this situation, the case will be referred to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for handling,” he said.

Confronted by clients at the police station, Huot Sovann offered an alternative solution to their difficulties, another source told RFA.

“He suggested that he would provide them with land and other properties in Vientiane’s suburbs instead of cash,” he said.

On March 30, Laos’s central bank issued a public warning urging citizens to carefully investigate the legal status of firms inviting investments and deposits from the public.

“If you believe these firms are raising funds illegally, please inform the relevant officials of the Bank of the Lao PDR [People’s Democratic Republic],” the notice warns.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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China-Funded Stadium Key to Improving The Lives of Cambodians: PM Hun Sen

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday dismissed criticism over his government’s use of funds to construct a new soccer stadium in the capital Phnom Penh, saying the money was donated by China and that the project was key to improving the lives of Cambodians after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

Speaking during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Morodok Techo National Sport Complex in Phnom Penh’s Chrouy Changvar district, Hun Sen waived off claims that the estimated 1 billion yuan (U.S. $157 million) required to build it would be better spent on infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

“I believe our people, and especially our athletes, won’t belittle my ability and that of the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)] in leading Cambodia to host the SEA Games,” he said, referring to the biennial sporting event involving participants from the 11 nations comprising Southeast Asia.

“After the regime of genocide and wars, Cambodians need infrastructure, social development and improvement of our livelihoods.”

Nearly two million Cambodians died from starvation, exhaustion, forced labor and execution during the communist Khmer Rouge government that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. The country has spent much of the last four decades recovering from devastation caused by the regime.

Cambodia joined the SEA Games as a participating country in 1961, but will be hosting the event for the first time in 2023.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service about the use of Chinese aid to build the sports complex, political commentator Meas Ny acknowledged the importance of sports in improving the nation, but said the government must consider other sectors as well.

“Genuine development is not proven in just the construction of a new stadium,” he said.

“There are other contributing factors, such as the cleanliness of the nation’s cities and usefulness of other public services.”

Garden City development

When completed, Morodok Techo stadium is expected to be a showpiece attraction in the 2,000-hectare (4942-acre) Garden City development being built by CPP senator Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) north of central Phnom Penh.

LYP Group will construct the stadium using funds comprised of Chinese aid.

In December, LYP Group and China Minsheng Investment Group (CMIG) signed a U.S. $1.5 billion deal to build a Cambodia-China Friendship City on a 550-hectare (1360-acre) parcel of land within Garden City. The project is expected to begin this year and include a convention center, hotels, a golf course, schools, logistics centers and amusement parks.

At the time, Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said the deal was the result of a fruitful state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Cambodia in mid-October.

Ahead of the deal, the Phnom Penh Post quoted David Van, local managing director of the Bower Group Asia, as saying that while it would reflect on the good relations between Cambodia and China, it was too large of an investment for Cambodia’s small market.

“Cambodia is not ready for this kind of giant project because consumer society here is not yet that sophisticated,” Van told the Post, adding that while many projects in the country commit billions of dollars in investment, few are ever completed.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodian Opposition Party Makes Changes to Comply With Amended Bylaws

Cambodia’s main opposition party has notified the country’s Ministry of Interior that it has re-endorsed its leadership and removed a slogan to comply with newly amended party bylaws.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) submitted a letter to the ministry on Monday, informing it that Kem Sokha remains the president of the party along with the three same deputy presidents—Pol Ham, Mu Sochua, and Eng Chhai Eang.

The CNRP also said it had removed its slogan “Replace the commune chiefs who serve the party with the commune chiefs who serve the people” in the run-up to local elections on June 4.

Eng Chhai Eang told reporters that the CNRP’s steering committee decided on Sunday that the party’s current leadership will remain in place so that the CNRP is in compliance with Article 47 of the party statutes.

“Now we are in compliance with the statute,” Eng Chhai Eang told RFA’s Khmer Service. “Actually, our statute came into effect immediately after it was amended.”

“Kem Sokha, therefore, has automatically become party president,” he said. “The re-endorsement of his position was not necessary. However, we had to convene the meeting to follow what the ministry wanted. Now the Ministry of Interior has recognized our new statute.”

Eng Chhai Eang said that the CNRP’s removal of the slogan was also a compromise.

Sok Eysan, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) said he welcomed the move to remove the slogan because he believes it can resolve the controversy.

“The re-endorsement of the CNRP leadership had to be done to be compliant with its statute,” he said. “By cancelling its extraordinary congress decision, the CNRP has resorted to sticking to its Article 47 of the statute.

“Regarding the removal of the slogan, the CNRP had to do so to ensure that it abides by the law,” he said.

On March 31, the CNRP notified the Ministry of Interior of amendments to its party bylaws after the ministry recently declared the opposition’s appointment of Kem Sokha as president illegitimate, throwing its participation in the upcoming elections into question.

The ministry had claimed that the appointment during a March 2 extraordinary congress ran afoul of the CNRP’s statute, based on documentation the party filed in 2013, requiring a moratorium on electing a new president for 18 months after the post was vacated. The CNRP had amended the statute at the congress before appointing new leadership.

The CNRP is one of 12 political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats on the June 4 ballot that many see as a bellwether for general elections in 2018.

Observers believe that the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in the June elections.

The opposition has warned that the ruling party is seeking to prevent it from standing in the elections through a variety of different tactics.

Reported by Savi Khorn and Sarada Taing for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Dozens of Montagnards Flee Cambodia For Thailand Amid Fears of Repatriation to Vietnam

Some 50 Montagnard asylum seekers have fled Cambodia to Thailand in recent weeks amid fears of forced repatriation to Vietnam, where they complain of discrimination and persecution at the hands of local authorities, a nongovernmental organization that monitors hill tribes said Monday.

Grace Bui, a volunteer with the U.S.-based rights group Montagnards Assistance Project, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that with the latest arrival of asylum seekers from Cambodia, the number of Montagnards based in Bang Yai, in central Thailand’s Nonthaburi province, had reached 250.

“There were only 200 people a few months ago but now there are 250 people,” she said.

“The reason is the government of Cambodia is very close to the government of Vietnam and it has returned some Montagnards to Vietnam. This makes a lot of people worry, so they traveled to Thailand.”

According to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, the 50 Montagnards left Cambodia in several separate groups beginning on March 25 after the country’s Ministry of Interior began rejecting some of their asylum claims last month.

The 50 included some individuals with a “very strong” case for asylum, the Post reported, citing Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been assisting a group of around 200 Montagnards that arrived in Cambodia in late 2014 and 2015.

Only three of nearly 100 Montagnards remaining in Phnom Penh are being considered for refugee status, the report said.

Thailand is not a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and, as in Cambodia, have no rights regardless of their registration with the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR.

When reached for comment, some of the Montagnards who fled Cambodia last month told RFA that their lives in Thailand have been difficult, but said the hardships they face in Vietnam are far worse.

“Cambodia rejected my case and [the government wants] to send us back to Vietnam, but we didn’t want to go, so we escaped to Thailand,” Y Hut, a member of the Ede minority said.

But he said that his situation in Thailand is also precarious, adding that he is “now in danger” of being taken into custody by authorities in Bang Yai.

Y Yony, another member of the Ede minority who fled to Thailand, told RFA that he would do whatever he could to avoid returning to Vietnam.

“If we return, we will be thrown in prison for five to 20 years,” he said.

“The last time I was imprisoned, I promised [the authorities] several times that I would not flee Vietnam and would seek their permission whenever I wanted to go anywhere. That is [another reason] why I don’t want to return.”

Y Yony said he does not have a stable job in Thailand and has been living hand to mouth since his arrival.

“I get jobs from here and there and get paid about 150 baht (U.S. $4.36) a day, and that is just to pay for my daily life,” he said, adding that most of the work he had done was helping to farm rice paddies.

A third member of the Ede minority named Y D’jom, who said he had arrived in Thailand earlier than the 50 who came in March, told RFA he was unable to work because the risk of arrest and repatriation was too high.

“I’ve been here since February and I have no job—I only stay at home because I’m not allowed to go anywhere,” he said.

“But I can’t return to Vietnam, because the police will arrest me there and torture me in prison. I’m scared.”

Persecuted people

Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar. The group of Montagnards who fled to Phnom Penh comes from the mountainous region of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kon Tum provinces in central Vietnam, which border Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces of Cambodia.

The Montagnards living in Phnom Penh are among the more than 200 who have fled their country and crossed the border into Cambodia seeking help from UNHCR, citing oppression by the Vietnamese government.

Rights groups say the Montagnards, many of whom are Christian, have been victims of persecution and repression in Vietnam. The Montagnards also backed the U.S. in the Vietnam War and some have suffered repercussions for this.

Xiu A Nem, a protestant member of the J’rai minority, told RFA she had suffered extreme persecution in Vietnam because of her faith, and only managed to relocate to Canada in 2014 after fleeing her home country for Thailand.

“I was oppressed in Vietnam because I’m a protestant—they don’t respect religious freedom,” she said.

“I was imprisoned for two years, but I escaped to Thailand and got help from [rights groups] and was accepted for asylum by Canada.”

Reported by Thanh Truc for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia Electoral Body to Ban Opinion Polls Ahead of June Local Elections

Cambodia’s top electoral body on Friday threatened legal action against any organization that conducts an opinion poll prior to upcoming local elections, prompting blowback from civil society groups who called the surveys key to fine-tuning political platforms for contending parties.

Speaking at a workshop on media preparation for the June 4 commune election, National Election Committee (NEC) spokesperson Hang Puthea said the NEC is in discussion with the Ministry of Information to release a statement legally banning opinion polls within a month of the ballot.

“[The decision] rests on regulations and legal procedures that we want to further stipulate in detail so as to ensure that even when there is election, Cambodia remains stable,” he told attendees.

Surveys predicting which political party will win the election “create confusion and chaos in society,” Hang Puthea said, adding that only the NEC is authorized to announce the official results of the vote.

“Past opinion polls caused an irregular environment in society,” he said.

“The NEC is paying great attention to preparations for the election and to ensuring that the daily lives of our citizens remain unaffected.”

Once the NEC issues its prohibition on opinion polls, any institution violating the ban “will face legal action,” Hang Puthea said, without elaborating on what punitive measures might be taken.

The NEC announcement followed an opinion poll recently published by local media that claimed the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would win up to 60 percent of commune chief positions up for grabs in this year’s election. Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesperson Sok Ey San has called the survey “a trick meant to confuse public opinion and discredit the CPP.”

Pov Pisith, the deputy director-general of the Audiovisual Department under the Ministry of Information, who was also in attendance at Friday’s workshop, said the ministry will not permit the broadcast of any opinion poll prior to the election to avoid “social insecurity.”

“Each political party will have its own observers at all polling offices, so we will know who will win and who will lose because everything is transparent,” he said, suggesting there is no need for surveys ahead of the vote.

But Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the civil society group Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), took issue with the idea that opinion polls foment chaos, instead calling them a crucial tool for parties in gauging how effective their political platforms are ahead of a vote.

“They help parties make further efforts [to refine their campaigns],” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Any parties lacking support can further improve their political platforms so that they can attract more votes.”

Twelve political parties are competing for 1,646 commune council seats in the June 4 ballot that many see as a bellwether for general elections in 2018.

The CPP won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.

Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in June, and the opposition has warned that the ruling party seeks to prevent it from standing in the elections through a variety of different measures.

The CNRP on Friday filed official documents informing the Ministry of Interior of amendments to its party by-laws after the ministry recently declared the opposition’s appointment of Kem Sokha as president illegitimate, throwing its participation in the upcoming election into question.

The ministry had claimed that the appointment during a March 2 extraordinary congress ran afoul of the CNRP’s statute, based on documentation the party filed in 2013, requiring a moratorium on electing a new president for 18 months after the post was vacated. The CNRP had amended the statute at the congress before appointing new leadership.

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Ny Chakrya (R) is brought to the Supreme Court by police in Phnom Penh, Sept. 5, 2016. Credit: RFA

RFA

Bail denied

Also on Friday, Cambodia’s Supreme Court denied an appeal for bail by Ny Chakrya, the NEC’s deputy secretary-general who has been in pre-trial detention for 337 days—along with four officials from local civil society group ADHOC—in an alleged case of bribing an alleged mistress of CNRP president Kem Sokha.

Ny Chakrya’s attorney Sam Sokong told RFA that presiding Judge Khim Ponn’s decision to uphold an appeal court’s March 24 ruling that his client be denied bail was baseless.

“The rulings of the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court were based on the grounds of the charge made against my client over a criminal case, [as an alleged] accomplice in bribing a witness,” he said.

“But in legal principle, allegation of criminal offense or non-criminal offense shall not be served as the basis for pretrial detention because the freedom and rights of the accused are protected by law.”

Sam Sokong said that his argument to the Supreme Court should have been sufficient to win Ny Chakrya’s freedom.

“We raised the issue of laws concerning freedom [of the accused], the [exorbitant] bail amount, the role of my client as deputy secretary-general of the NEC, [the needs of] his residence and family, and particularly that he is sick right now,” the lawyer said.

Sam Sokong said his hopes now rest with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where he submitted a petition calling for a prompt conclusion of the case against his client so that the trial maybe proceed. He has also requested the court’s investigating judges to drop all charges against Ny Chakrya or to grant him temporary bail.

Ny Chakrya has been charged with accessory to bribery, while the four ADHOC officials—Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, and Yi Soksan—were accused of bribery for attempting to keep Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet in a wide-ranging probe by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government into the supposed affair.

While the court case against them continues, Kem Sokha and a local CNRP official were granted royal pardons in the case.

On Friday, Ny Chakrya’s wife, Yem Chantha, told RFA her husband is not a flight risk and intends to cooperate with the court during his trial.

“He has no intention to flee—the same with the four ADHOC officials,” she said.

“We all have proper residences, families and work. We are cooperating with the court. Why would we have to flee?”

She stressed that Ny Chakrya is “truly sick,” adding that life in detention had been difficult for his health.

Rights groups and even the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) representative in Cambodia have called on Cambodia to release the five, dismissing their pre-trial detention as “arbitrary.”

Reported by Sothearin Yeang, Maly Leng and Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Opposition 'Misinterpreted' Meeting Discussion: Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior

Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior on Thursday refused to recognize the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) new leadership, disputing claims by the party that the ministry had no objections to the appointments it made earlier this month during an extraordinary congress.

The announcement once again throws the CNRP’s political legitimacy into question ahead of local commune elections slated for June 4.

In a statement issued Wednesday after a meeting between CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang and director-general of the Ministry of Interior Prak Sam Oeun, the opposition party said the ministry “acknowledges the process of the CNRP extraordinary congress” and “does not object to the amendment of Articles 45 and 47 of the CNRP’s statute.”

On Thursday, the ministry refuted that claim, issuing a statement which said that the CNRP had made “an attempt to misinterpret the real essence of what being discussed during the meeting” and saying the talks centered on “compliance with the laws … [not] any political solution.”

The statement went on to explain the ministry’s position that the CNRP’s March 2 extraordinary congress—during which the opposition appointed Kem Sokha president, and Mu Sochua, Pol Ham and Eng Chhay Eang as party deputies—was “against article 47 of the CNRP’s statute, which is the supreme law of this party.”

Ahead of the CNRP’s appointments at the congress, the party had voted to amend articles 45 and 47 of its by-laws—removing an 18-month moratorium on appointing a new president and changing the structure of the party’s leadership.

On March 22, the Ministry of Interior ruled in a letter to the CNRP that the party had violated its own by-laws by holding the congress and appointing Kem Sokha, based on documents filed at the CNRP’s launch in May 2013. On Thursday, the ministry reiterated its stance, again referring to the four-year-old statute.

Opposition officials contend that the CNRP was compelled to convene the congress and amend its statute before a new ruling party-initiated law on political parties went into effect, or risk being dissolved, because the law only provided it with 90 days to elect new leadership.

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy resigned on Feb. 11 in order to preserve the party in the face of the new law that also bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, among other changes. He has been living in self-imposed exile in France since 2015 to avoid convictions many see as politically motivated.

Contradicting claims

After Wednesday’s meeting, Prak Sam Oeun appeared to contradict the CNRP’s claims that the Ministry of Interior had no objections to the results of the opposition extraordinary congress while speaking with the media outside the ministry.

The director-general told reporters that the ministry will be “keeping an eye on the CNRP” to ensure the party’s compliance with its by-laws, but made no mention of its stance on the opposition’s extraordinary congress or amendments to Articles 45 and 47.

He also suggested that any violation would be forgotten if the CNRP abandoned its campaign slogan of “replace the commune chiefs who serve the party with commune chiefs who serve the people,” which the ministry has said goes against election laws and the spirit of democracy.

The CNRP has said it won’t modify the motto and will permit party activists to use it while campaigning for commune elections this summer.

On Thursday, Sam Rainsy called those who have found the CNRP’s extraordinary congress to be in violation of the party’s by-laws “naïve” and said they must learn to appreciate the right of the people to form associations and parties if they claim to respect the principles of democracy.

“People are entitled to make their own decisions regarding any creation or amendment of their own statute or regulations, at their own will—they don’t need to ask permission or seek approval [from the Ministry of Interior],” the former CNRP president told RFA’s Khmer Service in an interview.

“A party congress represents the voice of all its members. Any decision rendered by the congress shall be abided by the party’s members. At least, that is how democracy works. What the CNRP has done is correct and I support it.”

Speaking to supporters on Thursday, Kem Sokha said that he would remain the rightful president of the CNRP “no matter how others view the party’s statute.”

A report by the Phnom Penh Post cited Hang Puthea, spokesperson for Cambodia’s National Election Committee, as saying that even if Kem Sokha is only considered the “acting president,” the CNRP’s candidate lists would remain valid for the June polls.

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(From L-R) Sam Rainsy’s wife Tioulong Saumura, Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen and Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany watch a performance in Siem Reap province, April 14, 2015. Credit: RFA

RFA

Defamation case

Also on Thursday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Sam Rainsy in absentia to 20 months in prison for incitement and defamation, adding to a previous five-year term, and ordered him to pay a fine of 10 million riel (U.S. $2,500) to the state and a symbolic fine of 100 riel (U.S. $0.02) to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The sentencing coincided with the 20th anniversary of a grenade attack by still-unknown assailants on a rally led by Sam Rainsy, which killed at least 16 and wounded more than 100.

The case against Sam Rainsy stems from a lawsuit Hun Sen filed against the former opposition chief for suggesting that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was behind the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley. Sam Rainsy had called the killing “state-backed terrorism.”

Sam Rainsy’s defense lawyer, Sam Sokong, called Thursday’s decision “unjust.”

“The judgment is unfair to my client,” he told RFA, adding that he would consult with Sam Rainsy about whether to appeal the ruling.

Ky Tech, a lawyer representing Hun Sen, said he was unsatisfied with the length of Sam Rainsy’s sentence.

“I think the sentence is not commensurate with Sam Rainsy’s crime,” he said, adding that the former CNRP president had “caused great damage to our government and leader.”

Kem Ley, 46, was gunned down on the morning of July 10, 2016 as he stopped for coffee in a Star Mart store at a gasoline station on a busy intersection in the capital.

Last week, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced a former soldier named Oueth Ang to life in prison as the sole perpetrator of Kem Ley’s murder, but observers have questioned his testimony and said the investigation did not go far enough bring the masterminds behind the plot to justice.

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

Political commentator Meas Ny told RFA Thursday that he was unsurprised by the court’s ruling against Sam Rainsy, which he added had been “long anticipated.”

“We have been aware from the beginning that [Hun Sen] would win,” he said.

CNRP officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent the opposition from standing in the June elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of the political party law.

The CPP won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.

Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in the June polls—a race that many believe may foreshadow the general election in 2018.

Reported by Moniroth Morm and Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Cambodia Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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