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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Battambang is a lesson'

'Battambang is a lesson'

To some, he is a Funcinpec official who dares to stand up to the CPP; to others he's

a warlord. Battambang Deputy Governor Serey Kosal was recently recalled to Phnom

Penh, along with Governor Ung Samy of the CPP, after factional fighting in the northwest.

The morning after Funcinpec met to discuss his fate, Kosal spoke to Jason Barber

and Ker Munthit over breakfast at a Phnom Penh hotel Feb 26.

Post: There was a meeting of the Funcinpec board last night to discuss your case?

Serey Kosal: The board of directors supports me. However, I have asked

them to maintain calmness in order to give an opportunity to the Prince [Ranariddh]

to figure out what kind of policy he will pursue.

So you do not know whether your recall will be permanent?

Up till today, we only hear what is spread by mouth, not the legalities. The removal

[of a governor] can only be made by a sub-decree. The term used in the letter was

'summons', to recall us back to Phnom Penh. But as for a dismissal, the wish of Samdech

Hun Sen is to remove me. [But] let me give you an example. If there are problems

with an office, the head of that office will be removed, not his deputy. It is also

the same case, where the governor should be removed and not his deputy. If they pursue

the removal from the top level to the bottom level, that shows the initiative, or

idea, of a political party, not what is consistent with government administrative

lines. This shows the lack of neutrality, impartiality in the administration. But

as for myself, I don't care if I will removed. I won't be deterred by that, or anxious

about it. I'd rather consider my successes, even if I am removed.

First, I want them to fairly see that no longer can they use forces to suppress any

single Khmer citizen. These power-mongers cannot put any arbitrary pressure on Khmer

people. Secondly, I want to see real democracy and human rights being exercised throughout

Cambodia, not just on paper, not just on lips. So what I did was to stop the CPP

boasting about shooting, about killing, about how strong they are. Because to boast

about how capable you are at chopping and killing - other people are also capable

of that. They cannot sit with their arms folded while allowing you to attack them

any longer.

The result of the chopping and killing - Battambang is a lesson. So the CPP need

to stop speaking useless words. They should talk about democracy, about competing

for votes. The crisis is Battambang leads to real democracy. Battambang is a lesson.

How much notice did you have of your recall to Phnom Penh? Were you expecting

it?

I was aware of my recall at 1am on Feb 17. The next day at 9am I received the

letter recalling me to Phnom Penh. They told me to leave for Phnom Penh at 3pm on

the same day, February 17. At 2pm precisely I arrived at the airport in Battambang.

I had to wait for [CPP governor] Ung Samy and [CPP military chief] Hul Savoan, who

arrived at 4pm. Then we boarded the same plane to return to Phnom Penh.

Who initially proposed the recall of yourself and Ung Samy: Hun Sen, Ranariddh

or someone else?

I don't know.

Do you think it was related to President Suharto's visit? Were the Prime Ministers

trying to show a united face?

It could be. [But] The event in Battambang is very significant in Cambodian history.

Have you received any reports from Battambang about whether it is all quiet now?

I have been given information about Battambang by my colleagues. Everything is

calm. But I think a new arrangement must be made thoughtfully. Can everything be

smoothed out? Many times I have told journalists that the situation in Battambang

is very delicate, but nobody seemed to believe me.

Because a small number of CPP members are trying...to stir up trouble in areas of

former Khmer Rouge who defected to the government. The use of this image by Pol Saroeun,

Mul Roeup and Keo Pong caused the stirring up of the situation in Battambang. Whenever

they went to Battambang, to former Khmer Rouge areas, they never talked of the Royal

government, only of what is attached to [joining] the CPP. Every time, they only

talk of the interests of the CPP. They're playing the card of the Khmer Rouge defections

in their own interests...we cannot accept that. Those territories are under the control

of Battambang. The functioning of administration is made very complicated when there

is a division of political parties.

Lately I have heard that, through the lesson in Battambang, the functioning of administration

in many ministries and provinces is seen to have become smoother.

Hun Sen has claimed that many Khmer Rouge defectors throughout Cambodia support

the CPP. What's your assessment?

Hun Sen has only received untruthful reports from his subordinates. At a recent

meeting, I told everyone that leaders of the government receive only untruthful reports

from a couple of crooks.

In response to his claims that the Khmer Rouge defectors support CPP, let me say

that if there is an election tomorrow in Samlot, in Pailin, Phnom Dey, Malai, and

if CPP win, I will shave half my head for him.

Funcinpec never meddles deeply in what CPP has been doing and the [KR] people see

clearly that the stand of Funcinpec is in support of nation, religion and King. In

the end, they just turn to us.

Will the former Khmer Rouge be important in supporting Funcinpec if there are

any problems over the next elections?

I think if they share the same idea of supporting the monarchy, they will support

us. Nationalists will always find nationalists. In democracy, they have the right

to choose whoever they want. We want to see real reconciliation. Finally, what we

have done is in the interests of protecting the King.

[Kosal takes a telephone call from his daughter, overseas. Putting down the phone,

he smiles and says: "The situation is very fine, very fine. We have waited a

long time for this."]

Do you think Hun Sen will try to take action against other [Funcinpec officials]

such as Nhek Bun Chhay, Ho Sok, Khan Savoeun?

I think a good leader is one who has no revenge for his subjects. I myself and others

are Samdech Hun Sen's subjects as well. So my duty is to abide by his orders. If

we've done something unpleasant to him, he should recall us and tell us to correct

our mistakes. That's a good way to deal with these things. If he only talks about

dismissals at every minute, it is not something that is appropriate for a leader.

There's a Khmer saying: 'If you want to ask for a daughter to marry you, first you

should look at the parents.' To know if the children behave properly or not, you

should see if the parents do.

As he is a Prime Minister, I have to respect him. As he is the Prime Minister, he

has the right to correct his subordinates if they do wrong. [But] everything is a

mixture, and no-one is a lawyer here. Buddhism is probably the only guidelines for

governing. It preaches compassion, forgiveness. Let me ask how many people have knowledge

about law, from provincial governors to ministers to prime ministers. Some don't

even have any education certificates. Some have a past of being cowboys or farmers

who plough the soil and are now serving as governors. All the generations should

retire and let the new generation come into service as governors and administrators.

In the past four or five months, how much support have you had for your actions

in Battambang from the Funcinpec leadership in Phnom Penh?

You may see for yourself, without me telling you. Otherwise it would seem that

I am boasting about myself. What I did in the past until now is in line with my intention

to stick to the guidelines set by Samdech Krom Preah [Ranariddh]. The role and duty

I have had until today is also thanks to Samdech Krom Preah. I strongly believe in

his leadership. He will lead us to success, not to failure.

If you return to Battambang and so does Ung Samy, will there be peace or more

problems?

I respect the order of the Royal government and if all of us honestly respect

the orders of the Royal government, we can work with each other.

And the lower-ranked soldiers and policemen? Can they trust each other, after

the bloodshed?

It largely depends on their leaders. If the leaders take them left, they will

go left. If the leaders take them right, they will go right. It's simple - if they

break the law, just remove them. Any civil servant or official who disrespects the

law must be replaced within 24 hours.

Given the events in Battambang, do you fear for your life?

I always welcome any threats to my life. I welcome them with my every breath,

because I am a real Khmer. I am a real Khmer. Many times [I have had threats]. I

never pay attention to them. Because Cambodia is my country. If I am to die on Cambodian

soil, it is a great honor for me.

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