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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec loyalties put to the test

Funcinpec loyalties put to the test

Ung Phan and Toan Chay have taken the plunge - for the same reason or not - to spearhead

a Funcinpec breakaway that has been rumored for months. Jason Barber reports.

THE Funcinpec split marks a milestone - but by no means surprising - test of the

party's unity, Prince Norodom Ranariddh's leadership, and Hun Sen's ability to infiltrate

and divide his coalition partner.

The loyalties of some senior Funcinpec members have long been in question. Funcinpec

was aware of spies within its ranks, say party officials, as well as fortune hunters

who would jump to Hun Sen's camp if the going got tough.

More than a year ago, according to CPP sources, a Funcinpec steering committee member

was providing written reports on the committee's meetings to Hun Sen.

The spy's reports provide one possible explanation of why the Funcinpec Deputy Prime

Minister Ing Kieth attracted Hun Sen's ire last year. Keith, say sources, had been

a consistent advocate within the Funcinpec steering committee of a strategy to try

to encourage divisions within the CPP to counter Hun Sen's power.

"We knew there were spies in the meetings," said one Funcinpec official

last week. "Whatever was said in the meetings, Hun Sen knew."

Similarly, Funcinpec suspected spies among its Members of Parliament, and knew that

at one point the loyalties of an unspecified number of its ministers were in doubt.

Last month, it finally happened. Three steering committee members - Minister of State

and MP Ung Phan, Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay and Banteay Meanchey Governor Doung

Khem - publicly abandoned Ranariddh, along with a small but disputed number of MPs.

Ung Phan - who jumped first from the Funcinpec ship - was no surprise. If Phan, a

former CPP member close to Hun Sen, was a long-time agent for the CPP, his cover

was blown long ago.

Most in Funcinpec have not trusted him since the Prince Norodom Sirivudh affair in

late 1995. Phan tape-recorded a telephone conservation with Sirivudh in which the

Prince - angry about a CPP allegation of corruption against him - threatened to kill

Hun Sen.

The tape made its way to Hun Sen and within weeks Sirivudh - with the consent of

Ranariddh, and a compliant National Assembly - was packed off into exile.

Soon after, Phan approached Ranariddh, asking that he be considered politically "neutral",

according to party sources. Ranariddh told him that he had to choose sides.

Phan instead choose to go abroad. He left for a one-year English language course

in California - paid for by himself, his aides say - but remained disgruntled.

In February, say sources, Phan briefly returned to Cambodia and approached a number

of party MPs about a prospective Funcinpec breakaway. Party leaders were alerted

to his action.

For months now, Hun Sen has privately spoken of Funcinpec as being divided between

Ranariddh loyalists and the "Ung Phan faction".

Phan went back to the US and returned to Cambodia a little more than a month ago

for the Khmer New Year. Within days, he was mounting a challenge to Ranariddh.

Few political observers doubt that Hun Sen was pulling Phan's strings. The timing

was impeccable - just as Funcinpec was growing stronger, with Ranariddh mending his

differences with Sam Rainsy and forging the National United Front.

IF Phan - on his own - was a predictable and relatively powerless traitor for Funcinpec,

the biggest surprise was the defection of Toan Chay, the Siem Reap governor and Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) general.

A popular, straight-talking party elder, Chay commands far more respect and popularity

than Phan ever has. Chay is the former chief of staff of ANKI, the Funcinpec anti-Vietnamese

resistance army in the 1980s. While known to be no fan of Ranariddh's, he is an unlikely

candidate to throw his lot in with Hun Sen.

"Money," was one Funcinpec official's blunt verdict on Chay's motivation.

Other party officials speculate that Chay was unhappy with the Siem Reap governor's

job. They say that, after the 1993 elections, he coveted the position of Minister

of Interior, which went to You Hockry.

Since Ranariddh went public with his complaints about unequal power-sharing within

the government coalition in March, 1996, Hun Sen has cultivated contact with Chay,

according to several sources. There was speculation that CPP would support You Hockry

being replaced by Chay.

In Siem Reap, Chay is known to have good relations with CPP officials, particularly

the CPP deputy governor Nou Som. With moderate officials on both sides of the political

divide, Siem Reap was touted as a place where factional fighting, à la Battambang,

could not happen.

But while many presume that Chay is now firmly in Hun Sen's pocket, there is speculation

that he is in fact playing a different game. Even some CPP officials are by no means

presuming that the governor will be a lackey.

"Toan Chay was unhappy with Ranariddh, but he is still his own man," said

a senior CPP official. "He wants to have a new party, not to be part of CPP.

He uses CPP as a step."

Other CPP officials go further, entertaining the possibility that Chay's challenge

to Ranariddh may be supported by King Norodom Sihanouk. The speculation is fueled

by Chay's three-week visit to the King in Beijing in March.

Chay - and fellow renegade Doung Khem, the Banteay Meanchey governor and an RCAF

general - is close to the King. He is also known to have warm relations, better than

Ranariddh's, with the Queen.

The King, whose distaste for the government is well-known, has grown increasingly

disparaging of his son Ranariddh, according to other recent visitors. The Ung Phan

breakaway, so the theory goes, may have given the King the chance - through Toan

Chay - to pursue his own aims: see Ranariddh replaced? See a new party formed? Abdicate

and enter politics himself?

While several party members believe Chay would not have acted without the King's

approval, at least implicit, others roundly dismiss that possibility.

"I don't believe the King would play such a dangerous strategy - it still makes

CPP win," said one MP, who added that he also believed Chay was playing his

own game, not Hun Sen's.

"He has got his own ideas, even if CPP push him. I don't believe he will stay

with Ung Phan."

Another insider said: "I think his ambition is to lead Funcinpec, and he needs

the support of Hun Sen, to begin with at least, to achieve that. Whether he has the

benediction of the King or the Queen, I don't know. I don't think anybody does."

Chay, in an Apr 23 press conference, gave little real sign of his intentions, suggesting

that he would form a new party while at the same time declaring: "I was born

Funcinpec".

He said he had not discussed his challenge to Ranariddh with the King on his March

trip to Beijing, but had since written a letter to His Majesty.

Chay claimed that one of his aims was to strengthen the Monarchy - by putting it

above politics. He attacked Ranariddh's actions as Prime Minister as "bullshit",

but said that the Prince was "more than suitable" to be the next King.

Of Hun Sen, Chay said he had not received money from him but might in the future.

With a smile, he declared: "Which side I choose to align with? I choose the

one who wins, not the one who loses!"

Whatever Chay's game is, he must have a sense of déja vu about it. In 1986,

he secretly tried to collect support to topple Ranariddh as commander of ANKI on

the Thai border, according to a former senior resistance official. The plot collapsed

when Ranariddh was alerted by Thai officials, and when two resistance army commanders

- Nhek Bun Chhay and Khan Savoeun - refused to back Toan Chay.

Interestingly, Bun Chhay and Savoeun are today Funcinpec's most powerful generals

- virtually entirely in charge of Ranariddh's military might - whom Hun Sen has publicly

and privately railed against.

HUN Sen himself is said to be buoyant about the Funcinpec rupture. In a recent meeting

with CPP chiefs, he declared that "the final phase" of winning power was

at hand.

The reality, so far, is less clear-cut. Hun Sen is still far short of the number

of Funcinpec MPs he would need to dismiss Ranariddh, or any minister, or change the

Constitution.

Hun Sen will undoubtedly continue to try to lure Funcinpec defectors - through a

well-worn strategy of incentives and intimidation, according to human rights workers

monitoring recent events.

Timing will be everything. As Ranariddh himself said after Toan Chay and Ung Phan

defected, it's better that they leave now than "one week before the [1998] elections".

So does Hun Sen have more Funcinpec aces up his sleeve, ready to be played at a more

opportune time?

In particular, the loyalties of a number of Funcinpec Ministers are open to question.

A Funcinpec official acknowledges that - after Ranariddh's threat to withdraw from

the government in March 1996 - some Funcinpec ministers visited Hun Sen to "secure

their positions".

Last May, Hun Sen was confident enough to publicly claim that, if Ranariddh withdrew

from the government, many Funcinpec Ministers and MPs would stick with CPP.

"If five [ministers] leave the government, 15 others will not...if three [MPs]

leave the parliament, 50 others will not," he said, claiming that he had prepared

a list of ministers for a new coalition government.

Funcinpec officials are loathe to name their ministers who approached Hun Sen. "We

don't want to point the finger, but we know who they are," said one.

But the loyalties of several figures have long been under a cloud. Among them is

the Funcinpec Minister of Interior, You Hockry, particularly after the saga of the

missing heroin last August.

"He's ours, counted already," one CPP official said at the time, implying

that Hun Sen was in a position to call in favors from Hockry or attack him over the

missing drugs.

Whether Hockry failed to play the game, or Hun Sen now finds it more attractive to

use him to embarrass Funcinpec, there are now renewed CPP attempts to lift his parliamentary

immunity.

Other Funcinpec ministers whose actions have raised eyebrows include Agriculture's

Tao Seng Huor. He saw fit, without informing Ranariddh, to be the only Funcinpec

member in Hun Sen's entourage on a state visit to South Korea last July.

IF Ranariddh has to worry about people jumping ship if they believe that Funcinpec

is sinking, he also has to appease another group of members discontented with his

leadership.

Some in the party, particularly MPs, see Ranariddh as elitist and out-of-touch with

the grassroots. To such people, he earned himself no credit by banishing Sam Rainsy

- only to take him back - and by going along with Hun Sen's persecution of Sirivudh.

There is also a view - perhaps a factor with Toan Chay and Doung Khem - that those

who fought for the resistance were not adequately rewarded once the war was over.

Adding to the resentment is the perception that some of those who did get the plum

ministerial jobs, primarily returning Khmer expatriates, are preoccupied with greasing

their own palms.

It was not by chance that when Ung Phan publicly launched the Funcinpec breakaway,

he highlighted the issue of corruption. Many mid- and lower-ranked party officials,

even if they doubt Phan's motivations, privately say he was right.

After the recent breakaway, there are indications that Ranariddh is prepared to take

some action to counter corruption within the party. If he doesn't, he may face another

exodus from Funcinpec closer to the elections - to Sam Rainsy, his former nemesis

and now alliance partner.

"A lot of MPs and high-ranking officials will go to Rainsy," said one official.

"If he's still alive," added another, in a touch of realism.

Some in Funcinpec are putting on a brave face. "This crisis is a lesson for

Ranariddh. He has learnt a lot," said one official.

While Ranariddh can be contented that Hun Sen has so far failed to seriously threaten

his leadership, he can be certain the lessons will only get tougher from here on.

Some notable observers are not sure he is up to the test.

"This is the beginning of the end for Samdech N. Ranariddh and for Funcinpec,"

the party's founder, King Norodom Sihanouk, wrote in his latest monthly bulletin.

"Historic!"

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