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Cambodian PM, opposition hold second day of talks

September 17, 2013

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.

Their declarations came near the end of a tense three days of opposition demonstrations, which on Tuesday morning included a Buddhist monk threatening to set himself on fire.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy met for three hours Tuesday, a follow-up to four hours of talks Monday in which they agreed to ensure future protests were peaceful and to set up a committee for reforming the election process in the future.

Later Tuesday, Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party wrapped up a three-day demonstration it held to demand an independent probe of alleged election irregularities they say cost them victory at the polls.

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.

Speaking to a crowd of as many as 20,000 supporters at the end of the rally, Sam Rainsy reaffirmed his party’s vow to boycott the opening of the National Assembly on Sept. 23 if its demand for an investigation is not met.

Spokesmen for both sides, however, said Tuesday that they were closer to agreeing on political reforms, but declined to give details. Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said these involved solving the country’s problems and reforming major state institutions.

“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 discuss them 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.

Opposition leaders said Tuesday they would launch further protests if talks did not yield a solution.

Hun Sen’s government has been trying to discourage demonstrations by highlighting the possibility of violence. Breakaway marches from the opposition’s main rally site, Freedom Park, on Sunday led to clashes with police that left one man dead and about 10 injured.

Emotions ran high again on Tuesday, when a monk threatened to set himself on fire to protest the alleged fraud at the polls.

Demonstrators at Freedom Park were encouraged to speak to the crowd, and the monk stood up on the stage, spoke passionately about the unfairness of the vote and the suffering of the people, and then pulled out a bottle of gasoline. He was starting to pour it on himself when other monks and demonstrators on the stage jumped in to restrain him before he could set himself alight.

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

He added that Seng Sina said he wanted to commit suicide in order to push for the election investigation committee to be set up and for justice for Cambodia’s people. He was taken away by other monks who were looking after him, Ho Vann said.

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