Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, says his government has defeated an attempted coup.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday ordered authorities to release detained supporters of the outlawed opposition and appealed to activists who fled the country to return home, local media reported.

The announcement came two days after the European Union warned Cambodia that it must make real and credible progress in addressing human rights concerns, if the country wants to retain its preferential trade access to the bloc.

The European Commission launched proceedings in February to suspend Cambodia from a duty-free trade scheme due to serious and systematic rights violations.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) two years ago, after party president Kem Sokha was arrested on widely decried treason charges.

Sokha, who denies the allegations, was held under de facto house arrest until Sunday when his court restrictions were eased.

However, he still faces charges, and cannot leave the country or engage in political activities.

Dozens of party members have left Cambodia since 2017 to avoid charges which the CNRP says are politically motivated.

Hun Sen, who has led Cambodia for 34 years, told the Justice Ministry to work with courts to release jailed CNRP activists, the Khmer Times reported.

Acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy failed to keep his promise last Saturday to return to Cambodia after four years abroad.

He had vowed to lead a movement of supporters in an effort to unseat Hun Sen.

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