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Politics

Cambodia allows banned politicians to seek lifting of curbs

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) -- Cambodia's parliament on Thursday amended the law to let banned politicians petition the government for a return to politics, which could see restraints lifted for more than 100 members of the main opposition party, dissolved last year.

The politicians were barred by the Supreme Court last year, after Prime Minister Hun Sen's government accused the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) of plotting to take power with the help of the United States, allegations both have denied.

The amendment to the Political Party Law followed steps by the European Union (EU) in November to end Cambodia's duty-free trading access, after a general election in July returned Hun Sen to power, with his party winning all seats in parliament.

All 115 MPs of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) voted to amend the law, which allows banned politicians to return after a request to the Prime Minister or the interior minister.

"We would like to dismiss public opinion that says this amendment is done under international pressure," one lawmaker, Cheam Yeap, told parliament.

"Actually, this amendment is done in a spirit of national reconciliation and tolerance from the CPP, which always respects a multi-party democracy."

Former opposition members banned from politics could only resume their activities if each made a request to the prime minister or Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Hun Sen said in a speech on Wednesday. He did not elaborate.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was freed in September after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges, but remains under house arrest in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The amendment was an attempt to divide the CNRP, its deputy president, Mu Sochua, said on Thursday. "The amended law gives the full power to Mr. Hun Sen to determine who can be rehabilitated," Mu Sochua told Reuters.

"The international community must not accept piecemeal but comprehensive solutions acceptable to all parties concerned," Mu Sochua added, referring to the government's concessions.

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