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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Buddhist fighter retires quietly

Buddhist fighter retires quietly

SON SANN, one of the Kingdom's most prominent elder statesmen, retired quietly from

the national assembly in mid-January after a high profile political career spanning

five decades.

The 85 year-old leader of one faction of Cambodia's third largest party, the BLDP,

said he had resigned in case his brief attendances at assembly sessions undermined

respect for the parliament and set a "bad example for fellow members".

A former prime minister in the late 60s and president of Cambodia's 1952 National

Assembly, Son Sann served as a minister 17 times during his career which began as

deputy governor of Battambang.

Now a high counselor to the King, Son Sann lists his achievements as "a technician"

as his greatest successes. "I established the Foreign Ministry in 1949 and the

National Bank of Cambodia in just nine days in 1955, these were the high points,"

he recalled.

But the devout Buddhist will be remembered more for his political crusades - organizing

the resistance movement from the Thai border from 1979 - than as a civil servant.

By family tradition, linked closely to Cambodia's Royal family, Son Sann was placed

under house arrest in 1970 when Lon Nol toppled Prince Sihanouk.

"General Lon Nol sent me a letter asking me to stay in my house. I didn't mind.

I had a house full of orchids I had always been too busy to look after," he

said.

Son Sann lists his failure to reconcile Lon Nol with the exiled Prince Sihanouk as

"the lowest mark in his career."

"Lon Nol agreed but Prince Sihanouk refused," he said.

Having left for Paris, Son Sann reportedly infuriated Cambodian republicans in the

mid-seventies when he flew back into the country unannounced, urging students and

colleagues to give up the war effort against Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge.

Ok Serei Sopheak, an advisor to deputy prime minister Sar Kheng, worked with Son

Sann in Paris from 1975, trying to rally support for Cambodians trapped inside Pol

Pot's "killing fields".

"All credit should go to Son Sann during that period because he was the one

with the idea of creating a general front against the communist genocidal regime,"

Serei Sopheak said.

From 1975-79 Son Sann's Paris-based Association de General des Khmer a l'Etranger,

raised funds for general's leading various anti-Khmer Rouge resistance groups inside

Cambodia.

He traveled to the Thai border in 1979 to spearhead an anti-Vietnamese guerrilla

war movement - the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF).

"In the beginning it was hard, we had to use one evil [war] to fight another

evil. I asked permission of many Buddhist monks in Paris... they said if you don't

go many Cambodians will die so if you want to save them you have to go," Son

Sann recalled.

Son Sann said the move-ment's goal was national reconciliation and to protect Cambodians

against three main evils..." corruption, the Vietnamese invasion and the genocidal

regime."

Those goals have remained constants in Son Sann's career and have at times blinded

him to political realities, his detractors say.

Born in Kampuchea Krom and inspired by his ancestor Son Kuy, a renowned Cambodian

patriot from that region who was executed by the Vietnamese as a political agitator,

Son Sann has remained staunchly hardline in his views on Vietnam.

"I am not like the Khmer Rouge who claim there are three million Vietnamese

living in Cambodia but I say there are more than one million here, and they have

networks in all ministries," he said.

Information Minister Ieng Mouly, who heads an opposing faction of the now splintered

BLDP, said the rift occurred when Son Sann threatened to pull out of planned UNTAC

elections in 1993.

"He can incite people to fight but he cannot inspire unity," Mouly claims.

"He fought against Vietnam, the CPP, UNTAC, the Permanent Five even against

people in his own party.

"He stands for human rights, democracy, rule of law but how can you build those

things unless you make compromises to create stability," said Mouly.

Son Sann claims real national reconciliation will not be achieved until defecting

KR swear allegiance to Sihanouk rather than to either Prince Ranariddh or Hun Sen.

"At the moment Khmer Rouge forces joining the government are defecting to either

of the prime ministers which is creating the conditions for a continuation of the

civil war where the armed forces are split and politically aligned to competing parties,"

he said.

He said the only real reconciliation to end Cambodian suffering will be under the

King, "now it's the CPP and Ranariddh trying to make reconciliation for themselves."

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