T HE verbal barrage between the coalition partners over a recent seizure of weapons
earmarked for Funcinpec bodyguards has continued, with both sides questioning the
legality of the other's arms procurement practices.
The controversy started when Sihanoukville customs official's discovered a container
load of munitions addressed to First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh (Funcinpec)
labeled as "spare parts" on May 25.
CPP officials charged that Funcinpec had deliberately mislabeled the cargo's contents
in an attempt to smuggle arms and ammunition into the country, a move they claimed
was aimed at fomenting civil unrest.
"To buy and import the weapons that were seized cannot be considered a legal
action...because it was done secretly and documents were falsified. It was aimed
to cause internal war that would destroy the country," a CPP statement released
May 31 said.
" If [Ranariddh]...had imported the weapons in goodwill as co-commander in
chief, he would not have hidden if from the [CPP] co-Minister of Defense, he would
not have spent his own or party money, [but] would have used the government budget
and would not have named the weapons as 'spare parts', " the CPP statement said.
The communiqué was released by Hun Sen's cabinet following a May 30 statement
in which Funcinpec argued that the First Prime Minister has the authority to import
The Funcinpec statement also alleged that a separate consignment of weapons has
been delivered to Hun Sen's bodyguard unit without informing the Funcinpec co-minister
"Chao Phirun, the director of the technical department of the Ministry of
Defense, without the permission from the leadership of the ministry, has given 19
anti-tank missiles to the Second Prime Minister," it said.
In the May 31 statement, CPP dismissed the charge brought against the CPP Defense
official as "a defaming report". Instead, CPP called for further investigation
into the case of the Sihanoukville shipment, and threatened to take Ranariddh to
the military court.
"The cabinet of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen would like to propose to the
Marshall [military] Prosecutor to investigate immediately and thoroughly the case
of the secret purchase and import of weapons and send the complaint to the Marshal
Court," CPP said.
Funcinpec counter-attacked late last week by repeating its allegation over the
19 anti-tank missiles, as well as charging that CPP customarily takes weapons and
ammunitions from Ministry of Defense depots.
"Since the Sirivudh affair, CPP has taken thousands of rounds of ammunitions,
rifles, artillery shells and anti-tank rockets from Ministry of Defense warehouses
without informing the co-Ministers of Defense." said Tum Sambol, military advisor
to Ranariddh, in reference to the failed attempt by Prince Norodom Sirivudh to return
from exile in mid-May.
"Chao Phirun checked materiel out of the defense warehouses to send to the
second Prime Minister's bodyguard unit and to the governor of Kandal province Kun
Kim," said Tum Sambol.
While few observers believe that the war of words will spill onto the streets,
some military observers and diplomats maintain the controversy highlighted what they
say is a "worrying trend"- a shift of arms and resources a way from regular
forces increasingly into the hands of party-loyal militia and bodyguard units.