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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Balance of power shifts as leaders "stroke the tiger"

Balance of power shifts as leaders "stroke the tiger"

IN an apparent major shift in Cambodia's balance of power, Hun Sen is facing greater

pressure from Funcinpec and from within his own Cambodia People's Party (CPP).

Funcinpec appears to have garnered greater political muscle by engineering control

of the Khmer Rouge breakaway in the northwest.

Hun Sen is apparently prepared - for the first time since co-Prime Minister Prince

Norodom Ranariddh hit out at CPP's dominance of the government coalition in March

- to give concessions to Funcinpec.

The Second Prime Minister has tentatively agreed to let exiled Prince Norodom Sirivudh

return to Cambodia, and offered a fresh proposal - albeit unacceptable to Funcinpec

- to share district-level power with his coalition partner.

In what some Funcinpec and CPP officials agree was a deliberate ploy to gain a stronger

bargaining position with Hun Sen, Funcinpec - led by military chief Nhek Bun Chhay

- is masterminding negotiations with the renegade Khmer Rouge.

CPP officials and some observers see a virtual revival of the "non-communist

resistance" - comprising Funcinpec, the former KPNLF and the KR under the umbrella

of the King - which fought Hun Sen's Vietnam-backed government from Cambodia's northwestern

border with Thailand in the 1980s.

CPP officials, closely considering the prospect that the KR split is a "Trojan

horse", claim that Funcinpec is being dangerously naive and "deluding themselves"

in trusting the breakaway rebels.

Pundits, especially within CPP, are worried that both Hun Sen and Funcinpec are playing

a "dangerous game."

But Funcinpec's policy of "stroking the tiger", as one source put it, looks

set to pay dividends, in the short-term at least.

In an Aug 17 meeting with his co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen

proffered his apologies for earlier trying to claim the kudos for the KR split.

Sources say he also agreed to consider accepting a Royal pardon for Sirivudh, and

offered to discuss awarding Funcinpec some much-wanted district officials' positions.

However, he is said to have offered no more than 20 percent of Cambodia's 174 districts

for Funcinpec appointees, which Ranariddh - who has demanded a 50/50 deal with CPP

- is almost certain to reject.

But Hun Sen's willingess to even discuss the matter, given an earlier public declaration

by CPP that it would not consider any further power-sharing with Funcinpec, was significant.

At the same time, Hun Sen was facing rumblings of discontent within the CPP at his

handling of the KR splinter group and his public acquiescence to the splitters.

Hun Sen, along with Ranariddh, has publicly endorsed the prospect of amnesty for

breakaway leader Ieng Sary - which appears almost certain to be granted by King Norodom

Sihanouk, though it is unclear whether the matter will go to the National Assembly

for a vote.

Hun Sen also entertained the prospect of permitting the KR dissidents to form a political

party, saying in an Aug 31 speech in Battambang that they could do so providing that

they first handed over their territory to government administration and obeyed the

laws of the land.

Earlier, Ieng Sary announced Aug 28 the formation of a political "movement"

- the Democratic National United Movement (DNUM) - which he said would operate under

"the framework of the monarchy" to promote democracy and peace.

A mooted meeting between Hun Sen and Ieng Sary, along with Ranariddh, apparently

did not eventuate this week. But the Second Prime Minister met KR representatives

including Sary's son Ieng Vudh in Banteay Meanchey Sept 2, describing the meeting

not as negotiations but as a "family gathering."

A day earlier, disgruntled CPP elements moved to give their verdict on what it would

take for them to accept Sary and his comrades.

In a Sept 1 newspaper column, Chang Song, a senior adviser to CPP party president

Chea Sim, proposed a series of conditions to be put on negotiations with Sary's faction.

The conditions - widely intepreted as being unacceptable to the breakaway KR - included

that Sary make his forces surrender all their guns and that he transfer millions

of dollars from rebel bank accounts to government coffers.

The conditions, according to several CPP sources, represent the views of Chea Sim

and his followers, and their unhappiness at Hun Sen's handling of the KR issue.

"Suddenly Hun Sen gave everything away," said one disenchanted party official,

adding: "He will have to convince his own party that the Khmer Rouge is acceptable."

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