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US welcomes pardon for Cambodia opposition leader

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy poses for a portrait on May 9, 2013 during a visit to Washington, DC
Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy poses for a portrait on May 9, 2013 during a visit to Washington, DC. The US on Friday welcomed a royal pardon from PM Hun Sen for Rainsy, allowing him to travel back to the country before elections in just over two

The United States on Friday welcomed a royal pardon for Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, allowing him to travel back to the country before elections in just over two weeks.

"We welcome the decision to accept the prime minister's recommendation of a royal pardon for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia without incarceration," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

The US also urged Phnom Penh "to allow for his meaningful and unfettered participation in the elections."

Rainsy, who lives in France, had faced 11 years in jail after he was convicted in absentia for charges that he contends were politically motivated, including publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam.

Rainsy, who wrote to King Sihamoni in June requesting a pardon, told AFP Friday he would return "in the next few days" to campaign for his Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The pardon was requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen "in the spirit of reconciliation," a Cambodian government official said on condition of anonymity, but added that Rainsy had "no right" to run as a candidate in the July 28 polls.

Hun Sen has maintained a 28-year grip on power in the Southeast Asian nation.

Psaki also urged the Cambodian authorities to implement UN recommendations to ensure the polls were free and fair.

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