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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hardliners split as PMs quarrel

Hardliners split as PMs quarrel

S ENIOR Khmer Rouge veteran Son Sen was condemned by rebel radio on Wednesday, following

conflict between the Prime Ministers over claimed negotiations with remaining guerrilla

hardliners.

KR nominal leader Khieu Samphan, in the June 11 clandestine radio broadcast, said

that Son Sen and his wife Yun Yat had been arrested for espionage.

The pair were arrested for running a "major spy network" of communist

Vietnam and Hun Sen, Samphan said, detailing alleged links between the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP) and the KR "spies".

The reported arrest could not be immediately confirmed by government officials

or independent observers. It followed confusion over the whereabouts of Son Sen,

and fellow hardline chiefs Pol Pot and Ta Mok.

The Bangkok Post said Thursday that Pol Pot, Son Sen and Ta Mok were reportedly

in Thailand, en route to China, in an exile deal with the Cambodian government. It

said the information, from "Cambodian sources and field reports", was not

independently confirmed.

A senior Funcinpec military officer had earlier claimed on-going negotiations

would lead to imminent defections of KR hardiners, raising speculation over a possible

return to mainstream politics by Khieu Samphan.

Observers speculated that the arrest of Son Sen, if true, was a response to possible

separate CPP efforts to solicit KR defections. Alternatively, it could have been

a bid to put an end to Funcinpec's negotiations.

The Cambodian army Deputy General Chief of Staff Nhek Bun Chhay (Funcinpec) claimed

last week that the three-the most senior KR leaders widely considered guilty of mass

murder-had gone into exile in Laos or Thailand.

He claimed their departure would clear the way for all of the remaining hardliners

in Cambodia 's north, particularly their last remaining stronghold of Anlong Veng,

to defect to the government.

Bun Chhay's claims were not confirmed by any government or independent source.

But they ignited fresh political fireworks in Phnom Penh, as the co-Prime Ministers

differed over whether Khieu Samphan-who has for years been presented as the moderate

face of the KR-should be accepted into mainstream politics.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a June 5 speech, warned Khieu Samphan that he

would be "hacked" with knives if he came back to Phnom Penh. Hun Sen blamed

his co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh for using Samphan "as a political

counter weight to us."

Hun Sen later appeared to soften his position, reportedly saying that pardons

could be considered for Khieu Samphan and Son Sen if they broke away from Pol Pot

and fought against his supporters in Anlong Veng.

Ranariddh-who last month hinted at a Royal amnesty for Khieu Samphan-said the

negotiations with KR guerrillas were an attempt to put a complete end to decades

of civil war in Cambodia.

Ranariddh did no confirm that Pol Pot, Ta Mok and Son Sen had gone into exile.

But he made it clear he would support such a move, specifically mentioned Thailand

as a possible destination for the trio.

"If Thailand feels pity, and lets Pol Pot, Son Sen and Ta Mok stay in Thailand,

I would welcome that in order to solve the remaining problems," he told Reuters

June 3.

Bun Chhay, speaking June 10, denied meeting Khieu Samphan. But he said had recently

visited the KR-held ancient temple in remote Preah Vihear province, but avoided questions

about whether he had been to Anlong Veng.

He claimed that both Anlong Veng and Preah Vihear would be opened to journalists

as early as next week.

Of Pol Pot, Ta Mok and Son Sen, he said: "They agreed to leave [Cambodia]

by themselves. They understand the political situation in the country. They care

very deeply about their country....and leave their comrades to join in peace with

the government."

An earlier KR radio braod cast, on June 7, denied that a deal had been struck

to join with the government.

"The spokesperson of the National Solidarity Party of His Excellency Khieu

Samphan would like to strongly deny there are negotiations, and there is no plan

to join forces at all," the radio statement said.

Khieu Samphan's "party" had previously pledged support for the National

United Front (NUF) established by Ranariddh's Funcinpec party. Ranariddh, in turn,

had said he would welcome Samphan's party into NUF if an amnesty was given to him.

King Norodom Sihanouk, in a June 9 statement, insisted that he would never grant

an amnesty to Pol Pot or Ta Mok, whom he described as "the biggest criminals

in the history of Cambodia".

He said he would pardon Khieu Samphan, Son Sen and fellow veteran rebel leader

Nuon Chea if both Prime Ministers requested in writing that he do so.

Hun Sen, in his first public response to Bun Chhay's claims, made his strong objections

known in his June 5 speech in which he said Khieu Samphan would be attacked if he

ever returned to Phnom Penh.

"The people will chase him and hack him [with knives]. He returned in 1991.

We tried hard to protect him, but his head was broken. If he comes this time... he

will be in for it."

Hun Sen was referring to a 1991 incident when Khieu Samphan, during the United

Nations peace-keeping mission, came back to the capital and was attacked by a mob

of people. Some historians, diplomats and government officials have suggested that

attack was orchestrated by Hun Sen's CPP party.

Hun Sen, in an interview with Khmer language Radio France International broadcast

June 7, said he did not understand why the government should negotiate with the outlawed

KR.

"It is not necessary for the government to make an exchange like we did with

Ieng Sary. We granted amnesty to Ing Sary because he came with more than 90% of the

KR army. It was to get peace. [Today], it seems to me that Funcinpec is rescuing

the KR from collapsing, " he said.

Ieng Sary, the foreign minister in the Pol Pot regime, was given a Royal amnesty

last September and formed the Democratic National United Movement. The movement,

while maintaining that it is neutral, has voiced support for National United Front's

political platform.

Bun Chhay's statements were met with skepticism by diplomats and some government

officials.

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