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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt unloads both barrels at Rainsy

Govt unloads both barrels at Rainsy

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

and treason."

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

comments .

"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."

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