Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was consulting closely with foreign ambassadors in Phnom
Penh following blistering radio and television broadcasts on Jan 19 by the ruling
CPP/Funcinpec coalition denouncing his New Year's message as "dangerous to the
Nation, Religion and King."
The twin broadcasts prompted Rainsy to shuttle between the homes of the American
and French Ambassadors until midnight in an effort to assess the level of threat
the broadcasts posed to his personal safety.
The broadcasts are the latest in what has been a slowly escalating series of skirmishes
between Rainsy's party and the Government. The involvement of Funcinpec, however,
is a new twist.
In an interview with the Post on Jan 20 immediately following an hour-long meeting
with the Australian Ambassador, Malcolm Leader, Rainsy said that the government attack
was not unexpected.
"I have had some indications in the last 2-3 days that the CPP supported by
Funcinpec were making a move against me," he said. "[A move] which could
go so far as stripping me of my parliamentary immunity and condemn me for sedition
However, Rainsy insisted that he's the victim of a misunderstanding based on a faulty
translation of his original English-language New Year's message.
"It's a language problem...some people on their own initiative translated my
original English-language statement into Khmer, and later translated the Khmer back
into English," he explained. "The result was inaccurate and inflammatory
... accusing me of betraying the country, attacking the national religion, attacking
the monarchy and attacking the King."
While refusing to comment on whether the "translation problem" was mistaken
or intentional ("I don't want to judge that yet"), Rainsy questioned both
the timing and the motives of the government attack.
"The government waited for Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi and [American Congressman]
Dana Rohrbacher to leave before acting," Rainsy told the Post. "Yesterday
was the 19th of January and my statement was issued on the first...[the government]
waited a long time so as not to shock them."
By describing his call to apply Buddhist morality to politics as equivalent to having
"...urged people not to believe in sin or retribution" Rainsy warned the
government was encouraging "...religious war between Cambodian Buddhists".
Rainsy also ridiculed the government's accusation that his New Year's message "...appealed
for an abstract revolution...in order to demolish national unity".
"They imply a bloody revolution in the streets, but I'm talking about a silent
revolution," he said. "[I want] a peaceful progressive evolution of society
that happens in the heart and mind first...not an appeal to overthrow the government."
While conceding that he described Prince Ranariddh's Funcinpec party as "a morally
decrepit royalist party", Rainsy reject the government assertions that such
a statement was "a severe blasphemy to ... His Majesty and the Queen."
"They've misinterpreted my messages on royalty and the monarchy," he said.
"What I want is to ensure the stability of the monarchy and to ensure the next
King is as equally above politics as the present King."
Rainsy added that King Sihanouk had himself confided to him his concerns regarding
the future of the monarchy.
"The King has told me he's worried because he thinks of King Emmanuel II of
Italy who was so close to Mussolini that when the fascists were toppled, the King
was forced to abdicate and the monarchy was abolished," Rainsy told the Post.
"The King in no way was comparing Hun Sen to Mussolini or himself to King Emmanuel...it
was like he opened a book of history and read a chapter with no interpretation, leaving
the interpretation to me."
Meanwhile, Rainsy expressed cautious optimism that the government will not press
charges of sedition or treason against him.
"I'm not certain [I won't be prosecuted], but in Cambodia anything is possible
and I'll not be content with assurances given today that will become the contrary
tomorrow," he said. "But after meeting with the French, American and Australian
ambassadors ... I believe that there are more reasonable people in the CPP than those
most excited...who will not want to discredit themselves with a show trial of Sam
Rainsy just prior to negotiations for a Khmer Rouge tribunal."
Meanwhile diplomats have played down the incident, saying they don't see any imminent
danger of Rainsy having his parliamentary immunity lifted and being arrested.
"CPP is used to Rainsy's criticism, but this time he has broadened his scope
of criticism to Funcinpec, too.
"He attacked Funcinpec in very strong terms and I think he has managed to make
Ranariddh very angry.
"He's burning bridges and it may look like he has lost his perspective,"
said one diplomatic source.
A Funcinpec MP said the attack was prompted because Rainsy had been perceived as
attacking the King.
"It is because Rainsy attacked and criticized the monarchy," he said.
"He said the monarchy was getting worse because of Funcinpec."
However the Funcinpec member acknowledged that two parties banding together to attack
the opposition could be inflammatory.
"Funcinpec is the petrol and CPP is the lighter. Whether it will burn or not
is up to the boss," he said.
He said the key player in the dispute was the King and what his reaction is to Rainsy's
"We expect to have a statement from the King about this issue, because a lot
of people have sent a message to the king about this problem.
"Rainsy is a bit strong on the King issue. He should not do that."
Another Funcinpec source said that no decision had been made on whether or not to
push for the removal of Rainsy's Parliamentary immunity but it was a possibility.
It is understood that the CPP sounded out Funcinpec MPs last year about their feelings
on disqualifying Rainsy and his wife Samura from their seats in the National Assembly
because of prolonged absences without obtaining prior authorization.
At that time Funcinpec MPs said they would not back the move.
Meanwhile there are other concerns for Sam Rainsy and his Party. The Cambodian Embassy
in Bangkok is reportedly holding a list of names of Cambodian citizens residing in
Thailand that the Cambodian government has singled out for "special treatment".
"The Cambodian Embassy here has a target list of specific Cambodians targeted
for arrest and harassment," a Bangkok-based senior Cambodian affairs analyst
told the Post. "Embassies know about the list and have been diplomatically telling
people [whose names are on the list] to be careful."
Rumors of the list's existence has sparked panic amongst scores of Cambodians living
in Thailand, the majority SRP and Funcinpec officials and their families who fled
Cambodia following the 1997 coup. Particularly in the wake of the Sok Yoeun kidnapping
and arrest after Hun Sen accused him of being involved in the rocket attack against
his motorcade last year. An accusation that has been dismissed by Sam Rainsy and
his party members. Also in trouble in Thailand is Sar Saphorn head of the SRP Bangkok
office who assisted Sok Yoeun when he fled Cambodia.
Many Cambodian dissidents living in Thailand are reported to have gone into hiding
with their families for fear of meeting a similar fate to Yoeun.
Such worries are apparently not unjustified.
"When the police went looking for Sok Yoeun and Sar Saphorn, they were looking
to bust whatever Cambodians they could find," the analyst said.
"Cambodians have fled all over Thailand and are laying low to avoid being arrested."
According to the analyst, those most concerned are the approximately 100 Cambodians
in Thailand living under UNHCR auspices as "Persons of Concern".
A "Person of Concern" is an individual deemed to have reasonable fear of
returning to his/her own country and is allowed to stay in a second country while
their case is under consideration.
While Sok Yoeun's case has received the majority of the publicity, the analyst warns
that the case of Sar Sophorn will be a telling indicator for the future of other
Cambodians in Thailand living without the benefit of full refugee status.
"Sophorn is in far more trouble than Yoeun because he doesn't have UN protection,"
he explained. "Certain countries have already gone to considerable lengths to
get Yoeun a visa, but there's not much hope for similar assistance for Sophorn."