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Funcinpec members moot new 'Sangkum'

A MID rampant rumors of the imminent establishment of a new Funcinpec party under

the name of Sangkum Thmei - a clear reference to King Norodom Sihanouk's former regime

- Ung Huot this week launched a last-ditch attempt resolve the thorny issue of the

party presidency.

Huot, who was chosen to replace the ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh as First Prime

Minister, had at Post press time called a meeting of rival factions led by Toan Chhay

and Nady Tan.

"We are meeting to discuss the future of Funcinpec," said Nady Tan, the

Funcinpec dean.

According to party officials, the meeting is to be the first face-to-face formal

discussions between the two factions since Toan Chhay, the Siem Reap governor, led

a secessionist movement last April.

Toan Chhay's appointment to party president during a highly-contested "renegade"

congress in June set off a legitimacy crisis over Ranariddh's party presidency, and

who will have the right to appoint Funcinpec candidates in the next election.

"In order to compete in next year's general elections, Funcinpec has to present

its candidacy to the electoral commission, including the name of the party president;

but where is the president now?" said Nady Tan, alluding to Ranariddh.

Since Ranariddh's ouster in July, Nady Tan's group - claiming they still recognize

Ranariddh as party president - have refused to recognize Chhay.

Ung Huot reportedly told party members recently that he and his loyalists, including

Nady Tan, would quit Funcinpec to form a new party unless Toan Chhay abandoned his

claim to party leadership.

"People from Funcinpec who remain loyal to Prince Ranariddh brainstormed the

idea to set up a new party if no consensus [over the presidency] can be reached within

Funcinpec," said party member Than Sina.

But he said some party members expressed doubts over how successful such a move would

be and what kind of support it would muster among Funcinpec voters.

Funcinpec secretary-general Loy Sim Chheang and other officials confirmed that the

name Sangkum Thmei (New Society) had been proposed for any new party.

The then Prince Sihanouk's 1955-70 regime was called Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's

Socialist Society), which is today often hailed by His Majesty as the hey-day of

modern Cambodia.

"Many have tried to use the name of the King," said Than Sina when asked

about the name Sangkum Thmei. "But I don't think [the King] is involved."

Nady Tan said the proposed name simply meant New Society and bore no reference to

Sihanouk's regime.

Toan Chhay supporter Ros Hean said his group was prepared to negotiate with Nady

Tan's.

"We are not thinking about Ranariddh anymore. We are the Funcinpec party and

we want to negotiate with the elder members to bring peace to Cambodia and to restore

Funcinpec for the election in 1998," he said.

But Funcinpec MP Kann Man said the antagonism between the two sides ran "very

deep", adding: "We want to reunite with Toan Chhay but it is unlikely,

this reunion, so we will set up a new party."

Political observers, meanwhile, said the dispute only further weakened Funcinpec

as a whole. "Hun Sen must be rubbing his hands with glee," said one western

diplomat.

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