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German among activists arrested in Cambodia crackdown

Police have arrested a German and seven others in Cambodia. Activists have protested the jailing of the rights workers and an election official, claiming that the charges are contrived.

As Cambodia's turmoil continues, police arrested rights activists Monday, further clamping down on protests over opposition officials jailed on allegedly trumped up charges. Those arrested include the deputy director of prominent local rights organization Licadho and two foreigners, a Swede and a German who also work for the group, as they tried to rally outside a prison in the capital, Phnom Penh.

"The situation may become chaotic," government spokesman Keo Remy said, adding that officials worry that the actions of some civil society groups could cause a civil war. "I don't want to see Cambodia plunged into a situation like the Middle East's," he added.

Keo said police told protesters in advance that they could not proceed. Officers tried to prevent about 40 people from protesting outside the prison holding the opposition figures who have been jailed for a week now.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered authorities to "prevent the movement that could lead to chaos and unrest in the society."

A major crackdown

Rights groups have accused the government of using the legal system to neutralize the opposition and give Prime Minister Hun Sen the advantage in the 2018 vote, which could prove his biggest challenge in over 30 years in power. Sam Rainsy, the leader of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has gone into exile to avoid prison on charges reactivated last year - after he had long ago received a royal pardon.

A strong performance by the CNRP in the 2013 elections sparked a yearlong parliamentary deadlock, and the party ultimately boycotted the legislature after accusing the government of stealing the vote. A truce struck in 2014 fell apart after just a year.

The regime now accuses acting CNRP leader Kem Sokha of procuring a sex worker after recordings leaked of conversations between him and a hairdresser. Police accuse several people of paying the woman to deny that she had a relationship with Kem, who has not publicly commented on the accusations. They now face trial on bribery charges, though a UN worker remains free, likely protected by diplomatic immunity.

"I don't know yet what charges they are facing," Am Sam Ath, of Licadho, told Agence France Presse, adding that the officers had sent the foreigners to the immigration police. "The government is scared by its own shadow," he added.

mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP)

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