Hun Sen (left) with Sam Rainsy: their new silken road

AFTER Hun Sen bet $5,000 on Manny Pacquiao defeating Floyd Mayweather in boxing’s “fight of the century”, the Cambodian prime minister refused to pay up, arguing that the Philippine hero did not deserve to lose to Mr Mayweather on points. So far, so usual for Cambodia’s strongman: boxing is just like an election, really, only less violent. The opposition has long claimed that Mr Hun Sen’s ruling party stole the last election, and there has been blood on the streets since.

So what to make of the unusual: the recent spectacle of Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader, consorting with Mr Hun Sen, his nemesis who has ruled Cambodia for 30 years and who drove Mr Sam Rainsy into exile for the better part of a decade?

Mr Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had been in a stand-off with Mr Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) since the election in 2013. A parliamentary boycott and a series of street protests followed, as well as a violent government crackdown on dissidents. An uneasy truce was negotiated last July. Yet last month, in plain view near the temples of Angkor Wat, here were Mr Sam Rainsy and Mr Hun Sen celebrating the Cambodian new year together along with their wives, chatting amicably to locals.

So far as Mr Sam Rainsy is concerned, there is now sweetness and light. “I used to hate Hun Sen,” he says. “But then it came to my mind that I should not hate anyone as a human. I should only hate and combat any bad crimes that a person has committed.” Mr Hun Sen has had an epiphany too: he and Mr Sam Rainsy “must stay together because, at the very least, we have the same Cambodian blood.”

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