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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government’s KNUP purge rolls on

KNUP leader Nhek Bun Chhay speaks to the press before commencing a party rally last month in Phnom Penh.
KNUP leader Nhek Bun Chhay speaks to the press before commencing a party rally last month in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Government’s KNUP purge rolls on

The government has started stripping members of the Khmer National United Party of their state positions, as part of what KNUP officials have said is an effort to pressure them to abandon their leader, Nhek Bun Chhay, a former top military commander, and join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

According to separate royal decrees signed by King Norodom Sihamoni last week, five members of the minor party have been ousted from the government positions they gained in 2013 while members of royalist party Funcinpec, from which the KNUP split last year.

The terminations, requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen, came just over a week after Bun Chhay’s own position as a government adviser was scrapped amid allegations he vowed to throw his support behind the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

According to the decrees, the ousted officials include Ros Chheng and Chan Tithramo from the Commerce Ministry, who held positions as an adviser and undersecretary of state, respectively, and Pon Saroeun, formerly an undersecretary of state at the Environment Ministry.

In Vithoureak was also ousted as an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, as was Nuon Samphea as an adviser to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which came with a rank equal to secretary of state.

KNUP supporters during a campaign rally last month in Phnom Penh
KNUP supporters during a campaign rally last month in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Reached yesterday, Chheng declined to comment in detail, only saying he had not received an official notification of the decision.

The four other KNUP officials named were unreachable, as was Bun Chhay, who last week denied he planned to cooperate with the CNRP.

An official from Funcinpec, whose members have been following the situation closely in order to safeguard their own state jobs, said he expected the cull would continue, though he noted most KNUP officials had already defected to the CPP.

“[Officials] who are close to [Nhek Bun Chhay] have mostly defected to the CPP. There are less who have come to Funcipec to ask the party to request that the ministries keep their titles,” he said, requesting anonymity for fear speaking publicly could put his state job at risk.

Two KNUP members with ministry jobs who defected to the CPP last week told The Post that they had been pressured by their ministers in the wake of Bun Chhay’s fall from favour to reveal their political allegiances.

Reached yesterday, ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said the expulsion of the KNUP members was “normal” because they had been “dishonest”.

He said the CPP-led government had granted the jobs as part of an “alliance” with the royalists, following their failure to win a seat at the 2013 national election.

“When we make an alliance we join together to strengthen forces, but if they use this as a platform to join another party to attack our alliance, which causes problems for our alliance, then what do we keep them for?” he said.

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