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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec renegade backed by Hun Sen

Funcinpec renegade backed by Hun Sen

THE coalition government tottered perilously this week as the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) supported Funcinpec dissidents who challenged Prince Norodom Ranariddh's

leadership of their party.

Funcinpec MP and Minister of State Ung Phan - who is historically close to Second

Prime Minister Hun Sen (CPP) - on Tuesday split from Ranariddh to form a rival Funcinpec


Condemning Ranariddh's ability to lead the party and the government, Ung Phan accused

the First Prime Minister of a series of "blunders" which threatened to

lead Cambodia to "great disaster".

The extent of support for Phan within Funcinpec was unclear. Only one other party

MP spoken to by the Post, Ros Hean, publicly backed Phan. Two others offered him

limited support.

Phan said he would not leave Funcinpec but wanted to find an alternative leader.

He also pledged to seek to "reinforce" the coalition alliance with CPP.

A CPP statement issued within hours of Phan going public endorsed his complaints

against Ranariddh, and added that Phan and his supporters would play a "key

and active role" in strengthening the Funcinpec-CPP coalition.

Hun Sen moved to protect Ung Phan's position as Minister of State, delivering a speech

Tuesday afternoon in which he warned that officials could not be removed for "exercising

their right to support or oppose a political party or eminent political figures".

At Post press time, Funcinpec was mustering a formal response to Phan and was widely

expected to expel him from the party.

Funcinpec officials privately alleged that Phan's move was engineered by Hun Sen

in order to give him a pretext for a coup d'Etat. They claimed that the Second Prime

Minister, without support from the Chea Sim faction of CPP, had been close to

staging a coup on Tuesday this week.

Ranariddh returned from abroad on Wednesday - party officials would not say where

he had been or why - and was met at Pochentong Airport by top Funcinpec general Nhek

Bun Chhay and a large number of heavily-armed troops.

Ranariddh, without talking to reporters, went straight into a meeting with senior

party officials.

Later Wednesday night, the CPP police and military chiefs issued statements stepping

up security and appealing for calm.

National Police director Hok Lundy ordered police to be on alert for "acts of

terrorism" and increase protection for politicians, press and diplomats.

Soon after, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces chief of general staff Ke Kim Yan ordered

military commanders to strictly control their soldiers and weapons. He added that

anyone who caused "noise or explosions" should be detained.

Political observers interpreted Phan's declaration against Ranariddh as a classic

Hun Sen-inspired divide and conquer tactic, at a time of intense political pressure.

Phan announced his Funcinpec rebellion on Tuesday (Apr 15), the same day as exiled

Prince Norodom Sirivudh was attempting to return to Cambodia.

Sirivudh had decided to come home against the wishes of both Prime Ministers. In

previous days, Ranariddh had asked Sirivudh to postpone it, while Hun Sen warned

that his return could be "the spark that feeds the fire".

King Norodom Sihanouk, in an Apr 7 statement, said he could not "make an enemy"

of Hun Sen by granting Sirivudh a pardon. But the King warned: "I am ready to

abdicate immediately if the Norodom Sirivudh affair is going to be settled through


Sources say that Hun Sen has for months been convinced that the King will abdicate

and enter politics before the 1998 national elections. One observer suggested Hun

Sen feared that any confrontation over Sirivudh's return would give the King a pretext

to abdicate.

As Sirivudh was stranded at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday, unable to find an airline

willing to carry him to Phnom Penh, a pre-recorded statement by Ung Phan was broadcast

on the state-run TVK and CPP-controlled Apsara television stations.

Phan claimed that a large portion of Funcinpec "can no longer accept the leadership"

of Ranariddh, who was leading Cambodia "toward great disaster."

Phan blamed Ranariddh for a year of political instability, and accused the First

Prime Minister of trying to boost Funcinpec's military might before the 1998 election,

leading to "anarchy" within the armed forces.

Phan slammed the creation of the National United Front as a "coup d'Etat"

by Ranariddh against his own government. By seeking support for NUF from Khmer Rouge

hardliners in Anlong Veng, Ranariddh was "leading Funcinpec into a corridor

that would favor the return of the genocidal regime".

Phan also accused Ranariddh of protecting suspected drug traffickers, artifact smugglers

and armed robbers within Funcinpec.

Rejecting "the dangerous leadership" of Ranariddh, Phan said he and his

supporters would remain in Funcinpec but look for "another personality"

to be their leader. It added: "We propose to take effective measures to reinforce

the alliance between partners in the coalition government for the sake of its normal


An unsigned CPP statement issued the same day supported "every point" made

by Phan, and promised him a key role in "re-consolidating" the government


A brief Funcinpec communiqué said that the party considered Phan's "delirious

declaration" to be null and void, and that officials would consider the "case

of Mr Ung Phan" immediately.

Privately, Funcinpec officials described Phan as a Hun Sen stool pigeon. "He

has betrayed us once and now he betrays us again," said one.

The histories of Phan, Hun Sen and Sirivudh are all intertwined.

Phan was one of the key witnesses against Sirivudh over an alleged 1995 plot to kill

Hun Sen, which led to the Prince's exile. Phan tape-recorded a telephone conversation

in which Sirivudh reportedly threatened to "shoot to kill" Hun Sen. A written

deposition by Phan was presented at Sirivudh's subsequent in absentia trial, which

sentenced him to 10 years jail.

Before defecting to Funcinpec in 1992, Phan was for many years close to Hun Sen.

Phan accompanied Hun Sen when he fled the Khmer Rouge regime to Vietnam in 1977.

Phan was later the Minister of Communications and Transport under Hun Sen's State

of Cambodia government between 1988-90.

He was one of a group of government officials imprisoned without trial from May 1990

to Oct 1991 for attempting to establish a new political party in the then one-party


According to a Post interview with Phan in January 1992, he blamed the Chea Sim faction

of the CPP for his detention. Phan said that both he and Hun Sen had similar views

on political liberalism.

Five days after the interview, and while Phan was attempting to establish another

political party, he was wounded in an assassination attempt on Monivong Blvd. Hun

Sen, seen weeping after visiting him at Calmette Hospital told one reporter of the

deep friendship between the two. Hun Sen said they shared views on the development

of a multi-party system but had only disagreed on the timing and pace of such a development.

Phan subsequently joined FUNCINPEC, and was elected to parliament as a party MP for

Svay Rieng in 1993. A member of the party's steering committee, he was appointed

Minister of State.

Since the Sirivudh affair, Phan has mostly been out of the country. According to

an aide of his, Phan had been taking a one-year English language course in Long Beach,

California. The course was not due to finish until June this year, but Phan had come

back to Cambodia three weeks ago "for the Khmer New Year," the aide said.

CPP-aligned military police officers were on guard outside Phan's Phnom Penh home

following his declaration against Ranariddh. In a telephone interview, Phan claimed

"more than 10" Funcinpec officials supported him, but would not name them

"for security reasons".

Ros Hean, a Funcinpec MP representing Prey Veng, confirmed that he backed Phan. He

claimed support from more than 20 Funcinpec MPs, provincial governors or military

officers, but would not name any.

Hean said the group did not oppose Funcinpec but wanted to "rehabilitate the

reputation and popularity" of the party.

Hean is also a former CPP member, and one of those jailed with Phan in 1990. Two

other members of that group who were imprisoned then, and who are now Funcinpec MPs,

also offered limited support to Phan's statement against Ranariddh.

Nou Saing Khan - who replaced Sam Rainsy in the National Assembly when he was expelled

- praised Phan's "bravery".

"Ung Phan is right, I support him," Saing Khan said, while at the same

time adding that he was not prepared to sign Phan's statement.

Kann Man, a Funcinpec MP and chairman of the parliamentary commission on labor and

health, said he supported Phan's comments about corruption within Funcinpec.

But he added: "We do not know who wrote that statement [of Phan's]. Maybe it

was written by someone else who asked Ung Phan to read it.

"I don't know what Ung Phan is going to do. Does he want to go back to the communists?

I will not go with him."

One foreign diplomat said Phan's action was almost certainly supported by Hun Sen,

in a bid to split Funcinpec much the same as he had with the Buddhist Liberal Democratic

Party (BLDP).

The diplomat suggested that Phan would gather some backing from Funcinpec members

disgruntled with Ranariddh's leadership style - particularly from those who were

not "expatriate Khmers" with dual nationalities - but doubted whether he

was strong enough to lead a major rebellion.

Theoretically, at least, if Phan can attract just a few Funcinpec MPs - and align

them with CPP - he could eliminate the majority held by Ranariddh and his allies

in the National Assembly.



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