Cambodian prime minister turns down offer of talks from former opposition leader

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday turned down an offer of talks from former opposition leader Sam Rainsy to end a crisis caused by the dissolution of the main opposition party ahead of general elections set for July 29.

The Supreme Court last November dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), at the request of the government of Hun Sen, which said it had been plotting to take power with the help of the United States.

The CNRP, and the United States embassy, have denied the allegation.

In a speech on Monday Hun Sen, who has held power since 1985, said he was not willing to talk to Sam Rainsy, citing the latter's criminal convictions.

"I open my heart to hold talks on politics but it must be clearly stated that people who are involved in legal cases have no right to hold talks with Hun Sen," he said, referring to himself in the third person.

In a message on Twitter on Sunday, Sam Rainsy said, "I am always open to meeting with Hun Sen's government in order to find a peaceful solution to this unprecedented crisis, a solution that would be acceptable to both sides with international guarantees."

Sam Rainsy's comments were his first remarks on the matter since the opposition ban.

The dissolution of the opposition party followed the arrest of party leader Kem Sokha, also accused of plotting to take power with U.S. help. That charge was made because of the threat the CNRP posed at the July elections, Kem Sokha has said.

Sam Rainsy resigned as president of the CNRP in 2017 but remains one of the government's most visible critics.

He had previously served as finance minister in an ill-fated coalition set up when Hun Sen refused to give up power after losing a U.N.-organized election in 1993.

He has lived in France since 2015 to avoid a series of convictions he says are politically motivated.

Western countries have criticized Hun Sen over the CNRP's dissolution and the arrest of Kem Sokha ahead of the general election.

Hun Sen's government and its allies have targeted non-government bodies, opposition lawmakers and some independent media in a crackdown.

On Friday, Hun Sen had said he was open to holding talks to end the crisis but would not negotiate a change to criminal convictions brought against opposition figures.

On Sunday, a spokesman for Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party said Sam Rainsy was not serious about holding talks.

"He has no way out," Sok Eysan told Reuters. "The culture of dialogue is dead and he has to face prison for crimes he has committed."

(Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez)

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