A Cambodian opposition leader who has spent months holed up in his party headquarters in a bid to avoid arrest was pardoned by the king today, breaking a lengthy political stalemate. Kem Sokha, the acting head of Cambodia's biggest opposition group, has refused to leave the headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party since late May over a prosecution he says is politically motivated. He was sentenced to five months in jail in September for refusing to appear in court over an investigation into an alleged mistress of his. Cambodia has been ruled for more than three decades by strongman premier Hun Sen, who critics and rights groups say has used the courts to jail opponents or tie them up in debilitating legal cases. But today the palace published a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni. A government spokesman said Hun Sen had requested a royal pardon for his political opponent after Kem Sokha wrote a letter admitting guilt. "It's originally because Mr.
Sokha acknowledged his wrong doing. He confessed," Sok Eysan, a spokesman for Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party said. The CNRP said Kem Sokha had written a letter for "national reconciliation" but did not say whether he had made an admission of guilt. Spokesman Yem Ponhearith said no deal had been made for the pardon. Hun Sen has loomed over Cambodian politics for three decades, steering the impoverished nation out of the ashes of civil war. But opposition groups have gained ground amid growing disillusionment over endemic corruption, rights abuses and political repression. The CNRP accuses Hun Sen of denying it a majority by rigging the 2013 election in his favour, a charge the premier denies. The party's top leader Sam Rainsy has spent nearly one year in self-imposed exile to avoid arrest warrants he claims are politically-motivated while a number of senior opposition senators have been jailed. The CNRP say Hun Sen has been trying to hamstring them ahead of 2018 elections. But recent weeks have suggested a thaw in relations. Last month opposition politicians ended a six-month boycott of parliament with one lawmaker describing the move as "a gesture to show that we want a resolution". Independent political analyst Virak Ou said it was "quite common" for Cambodian political crises to be resolved with behind the scene deals, adding the move will be "a relief for the general public as well as the investors". Government spokesman Sok Eysan said he had "no clue" about whether a similar pardon would be given to self-exiled opposition leader Rainsy.
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