Cambodian PM, opposition hold second day of talks

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s contending parties said Tuesday that they were closer to resolving the country’s post-election political deadlock, but need more time to reach an agreement.

But the optimism comes as opposition emotions over the election were still running high, with a Buddhist monk threatening to set himself on fire to protest alleged ruling party chicanery at the polls.

While the self-immolation threat was one of the more dramatic developments since the disputed July 28 polls, the extended talks between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy were an indication the political conflict may be resolved without violence.

The two met for three hours Tuesday, a follow-up to four hours of talks Monday in which they agreed to meet again for more talks, to ensure future protests were peaceful and to set up a committee for reforming the election process in the future.

Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party is demanding an independent probe of alleged election irregularities they say cost them victory at the polls, and is threatening to boycott the opening of the National Assembly on Sept. 23.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which won 68 assembly seats, says that with the results already ratified, there is no legal way to challenge the election process. The opposition won 55 seats, a significant increase from the 29 seats it held in the last assembly.

Spokesmen for both sides said they were closer to agreeing on political reforms. Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said those included their points of view on solving the problems the country and its major national institutions are facing.

“Now the gap is closing, but we need more time to talk because there are plenty of topics,” he said.

Prak Sokhon, spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party, said the two sides had agreed on several points, and now had to talk them over with their respective party members before meeting again. He said there was not yet 100 percent agreement, but some points had already been agreed upon.

They both declined to specify what they had agreed on.

The opposition has been pressing its case in the streets, most recently with a rally that began Sunday in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. Hun Sen’s government has been trying to discourage demonstrations by highlighting the possibility of violence, and in breakaway marches Sunday away from the main rally site, clashes with police left one man dead and about 10 injured.

The main rally continued peacefully Tuesday, with about 5,000 people turning up by noon.

Participants are encouraged to speak, and a Buddhist monk stood up on the stage, gave a very passionate speech about the unfairness of the vote and the suffering of the people, and then pulled out a bottle of gasoline. He was pouring it on himself and preparing to light it when other monks and demonstrators on the stage jumped in to stop him and calm him down.

Cambodia National Rescue Party politician Ho Vann, who was on stage during the incident, identified the monk as Seng Sina, 35, from the southern province of Takeo.

Ho Vann said Seng Sina claimed he wanted to commit suicide in order to push for the impartial committee to be set up and for justice to be provided for the Cambodian people. He was taken away by other monks who were looking after him, Ho Vann said.

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