Cambodian parties 'near deal' to end stalemate

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) head Sam Rainsy.

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's opposition leader said Thursday that he was close to reaching a deal with long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen to end a boycott of parliament over fiercely disputed elections.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) head Sam Rainsy said nearly all the differences with the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had been resolved during talks in recent days.

But they have yet to agree on the date of the next election, after Hun Sen offered new polls in February 2018, just five months earlier than scheduled.

Rainsy said his party wanted the election to be held at least one year earlier.

"But we have moved forward. We have agreed on several points, important points," Rainsy said at a news conference.

"I think the remaining point will be resolved in the near future. It is a matter of days or at most weeks. So I remain cautiously optimistic," he said.

Rainsy said Hun Sen had agreed to reform the national election body, which has been accused of bias in favour of the ruling party.

The opposition's request for its own television and radio stations was also discussed although it was unclear whether the ruling party had fully agreed to the demand.

In a speech, Hun Sen also voiced optimism that an agreement was close, suggesting a deal could even be signed on Friday - a suggestion downplayed by Rainsy.

On Monday the premier had threatened Rainsy with legal action over a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni that appeared to rebuke the monarch for endorsing parliament despite the row.

That was seen as an attempt to press Rainsy into ending the boycott of parliament.

The July elections returned Hun Sen to power but are hotly disputed due to allegations of massive vote-rigging.

Rainsy has unsuccessfully demanded an independent probe into the vote but Hun Sen has been unswayed despite a series of opposition street protests.

The strongman premier faces mounting criticism by rights groups over a series of crackdowns on demonstrations intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule.

In January at least four civilians were killed when police opened fire on striking garment factory workers.

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