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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen loyalists take key posts as rumors fly

Hun Sen loyalists take key posts as rumors fly

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Prime Minister Hun Sen has made a number of strategic political moves in recent weeks - moving or cementing loyalists into positions of power within the CPP which have served to undermine Funcinpec solidarity, while the Premier has openly attacked the Sam Rainsy Party.

The moves come amid disquiet within the middle and upper ranks of the CPP over Hun Sen's attitude towards a trial for Khmer Rouge leaders and his alleged involvement with murdered actress Piseth Pelika.

One Government official said Hun Sen has lost critical support at the secretary of state and under secretary of state levels in recent months over the two matters.

There are also reports that Hun Sen is angry with Sok An over the failure of the government to reach an agreement with donors over the issue of demobilization and is trying to sideline him from the negotiations.

This week two key appointments of Hun Sen loyalists were confirmed: Hun Sen advisor Kun Kim was appointed as a deputy commander in chief of RCAF and Chea Sophara was confirmed as governor of Phnom Penh. Government sources also confirmed that National Police Chief Hok Lundy would stay in his position despite widespread rumors that he would be appointed ambassador to Vietnam.

The CPP had agreed with Funcinpec to remove Hok Lundy from his position as part of last year's coalition deal but has never done so.

The appointment of Chea Sophara as head of the Phnom Penh municipality has provided a double payoff for Hun Sen.

It places one of his loyalists in a key position at the same time it is threatening to blow Funcinpec apart.

Funcinpec leader Prince Ranariddh's rumored acceptance of a substantial cash payoff to allow Chea Sophara to take the position has infuriated Funcinpec party faithful and National Assembly members who say he must go.

They see it at best as a sign of weakness, at worst rapacious greed in action.

Both Ranariddh and Sophara deny money changed hands. But party insiders say differently.

Several Funcinpec members said that $3.5 million had been paid to Ranariddh via a Bangkok bank however they all conceded there was no proof.

But there is also said to have been two pieces of property near the Ministry of Industry Mines and Energy transferred from Sophara to Ranariddh's wife Princess Marie and documentation to prove it, although none was provided to the Post.

The decision to appoint Sophara instead of a Funcinpec member has also upset the party because it was apparently made as early as the beginning of the year.

Western diplomats are believed to have known about the move as early as December. It has been suggested that once the question of money and its transfer had been settled between Ranariddh and Hun Sen the Funcinpec leader was told to make a pretense of finding a candidate but not to appoint anyone. Party members point to Ranariddh's refusal to make the appointment via a free internal vote as evidence of this as well as the approaches he made to candidates whom they said would never have accepted the position.

In the meantime Chea Sophara was told to make some improvements in the city such as renovating the parks and the water-front that would be popular with the public - the bread and circuses school of municipal management - in preparation for his official appointment.

Sophara is adamant however he got the position on merit.

"I have been doing good work for the Phnom Penh municipality, people in Phnom Penh think that I am competent in doing all the work in Phnom Penh and I am considered a good person as well," he said.

Meanwhile one Funcinpec member said that Ranariddh had all but given up on politics.

"Since the last election Prince Ranariddh has not cared about the party only about himself," he said adding that now 80 percent of Funcinpec parliamentarians opposed him and wanted him removed.

But they all acknowledge that the problem is who to replace him with and the risk that if he was deposed and later became King he might exact revenge on the plotters.

"We need to know if he is going to be King," said one member.

"If he is not then he must be removed one hundred percent. He cannot even stay in the country."

Prince Sirvudth has been cited as a possible replacement to Ranariddh but so far he has not shown any enthusiasm for the idea.

Funcinpec members have met with him but said that they did not ask him specifically to make a move for the party leadership and he did not indicate his inclination to do so.

Even those who have publicly supported Ranariddh recently are privately bemused by his recent behavior.

"I don't understand the Prince's policy but we, Funcinpec, must follow him," said one senior Funcinpec official who had publicly endorsed the position.

And he added he believed "the criticism of my party is normal and would not affect it at all, so I don't care."

The Sam Rainsy Party has also come in for attack in recent months but while there has been a degree of subtlety to the moves on Funcinpec the same cannot be said for those against the SRP.

Members have been arrested for the rocket attack in Siem Reap last year, and are now being kept in Phnom Penh's military prison and are being subjected to mistreatment according to human rights workers.

An SRP national assembly member was kidnapped but later released. And there have been a raft of verbal attacks on the Party's leader accusing him of fabricating the Piseth Pelika story and generally trying to undermine the country.

There is growing conjecture that all these moves are linked to Hun Sen's growing lack of popularity within the party and his perceived need to shore up his support.
His recent behavior has concerned diplomats. One said that up till mid-year Hun Sen appeared to be making serious efforts to cast himself as a statesman but since then had returned to his previous unpredictable form.

The diplomat said the CPP was a disciplined party and any cracks that appeared indicated serious problems.

"They are an old style communist party with the communist party structure," he said.

"They are good at keeping their problems in house."

But at the moment there is disquiet.

The appointment of Kun Kim has put another Hun Sen loyalist into a top position within RCAF however it is understood to have angered many within the army particularly as they were not consulted about the appointment.

Kim's position as head of training and education gives him no power base within the army.

It might possibly be a payoff for his actions in calling out the bodyguard units in July 1997 for the coup. RCAF leaders had refused to allow their troops to become involved.

Since then Kim has been in a political limbo. He was unsuccessful in his bid to become a member of the CPP central committee - his candidature was opposed by the Chea Sim/Sar Kheng faction of the party.



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