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Cambodia to ease grip on opposition, media as EU threats loom

AFP  |  Phnom Penh 

said Monday that banned opposition members may be allowed back into political life and shuttered could reopen as the EU considers pulling a trade deal the country is loath to lose.

Numerous activists, journalists and government critics were released from jail in the months after strongman Hun Sen's won all parliamentary seats in July elections held without the main opposition party.

But the concessions did not deter the from threatening in October to suspend trade benefits in the wake of the vote -- a move that would cripple the country's billion-dollar garment industry, its largest formal employer.

Though has balked at the idea that international pressure can force his hand, analysts say the Cambodian is in a tough spot with the EU and has to ease up on dissent to avoid losing the preferences.

The dissolved the National Rescue Party (CNRP) in a ruling a year ago as homed in on critics before the vote, accusing the party's of attempting to overthrow the government.

More than 100 CNRP members were banned from politics, many of whom fled the country or retreated from public affairs.

But said in a statement that in the spirit of national reconciliation and to broaden democratic space parliament was reviewing legislation allowing "individuals who were banned from to resume their political activities".

The statement did not mention the EU deal but said court cases involving unions could be expedited and outlets like the feisty English-language Daily could be allowed to return if it paid errant tax bills.

It added that US-backed Radio Free Asia, which also shut during escalating pressure on the media, was welcome to reopen its office. Cambodia "cherishes promotion of freedom of press and freedom of expression", the ministry said.

contend audits were used to pressure outlets to cease operations last year and plug up independent reporting before the election.

Rights groups fear Cambodia is sliding towards authoritarianism with the help of China, which showers the government with loans and infrastructure while asking few questions about how runs the country.

The has been in power for 33 years using a mix of wily political gambits and networks of alliances in the and police.

Monday's statement did not bring up Kem Sokha, the of the CNRP who was accused of treason during the crackdown and is now living under conditions that resemble house arrest.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, December 03 2018. 16:45 IST