Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni on July 12 granted a royal pardon to Sam Rainsy, self-exiled leader of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The royal pardon was not a result of international pressure, but Prime Minister Hun Sen's commitment towards a national unification and reconciliation, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters on July 13.

It is the stance of the ruling Cambodian People's Party that there should be unity ahead of free, fair and democratic elections on July 28, he said.

A day after receiving the amnesty, Sam Rainsy announced that he would return to Cambodia on July 19.

Rainsy, 62, fled Cambodia in late 2009 before the court sentenced him to 12 years in prison in absentia for two charges - removing border poles and publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam.

Eight political parties will compete in the upcoming election. The country has about 9.67 million eligible voters.

Two main parties are the ruling Cambodian People's Party, led by incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodia National Rescue Party led by Sam Rainsy.

Hun Sen's party is widely expected to win the majority in the forthcoming elections.

The country holds a general election every five years. During the last election in July 2008, Hun Sen's party won 90 seats out of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, while the opposition group gained 29 seats.-VNA