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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Intrigue and conflict bring politics to a boil

Intrigue and conflict bring politics to a boil

P olitical analysts say tensions between Funcinpec and the Cambodian People's Party

are at their worst since March after two weeks of rising pressure that brought an

armed stand-off between soldiers of the two parties.

One skirmish - apparently an argument between drunken soldiers rather than a direct

attack - left a CPP military policeman shot in the leg in Battambang town.

Funcinpec deployed soldiers in an apparent attempt to reassert its military control

of the region - with a senior party official threatening to cut off Battambang from

Phnom Penh - while the CPP reinforced its troops near the capital.

At the Post's press time, negotiations to defuse the situation appeared successful.

Officials from both parties said they believed major confrontation would be averted.

But both parties continued to throw accusations at each other over the events in

Battambang, and what sparked them - and other events had the parties squaring off

over the opposition Khmer Nation Party, as well as defecting members of the Khmer

Rouge. The shooting death of the brother-in-law of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen

cranked the tension higher.

Major developments included:

  • Hun Sen producing a group of alleged KR infiltrators in Phnom Penh who claimed

    that KNP leader Sam Rainsy collaborated with the urban rebels - and that they had

    been approached by envoys of First PM Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who told them not

    to defect to the government. Ranariddh and KNP officials denied the charges.

  • Heng Samrin, honorary CPP president, saying: "The alliance exists only on

    paper. Practically it's no longer possible.... the CPP has full control of the situation."

  • A senior Funcinpec source saying that Ranariddh was prepared to form a national

    front including Sam Rainsy's KNP and even Son Sann, the aging founder of the BLDP

    who was ousted in the party's split last year but still heads a faction.

  • A CPP official saying that the Funcinpec troops who faced off against CPP forces

    in Battambang included former KR who were part of the Ieng Sary breakaway. A Funcinpec

    official responded: "All the nationalist forces were together."

The Battambang crisis erupted while Ranariddh was attending an economic conference

in Hong Kong. It cooled after three days but left distinct the dividing lines between

the former anti-Vietnamese resistance forces and Hun Sen's CPP.

CPP sources alleged the facedown was the result of a pre-arranged Funcinpec plan

- approved by Ranariddh - to flex its military muscle and seek bargaining power with

the CPP.

Funcinpec, meanwhile, accused CPP of mobilizing troops first, and of intimidating

and disarming Funcinpec officials in Battambang. A Funcinpec official accused the

CPP of attempting a "permanent coup d'etat", excluding Funcinpec from an

equal share of power.

At the center of the fray was the province's second deputy governor, Funcinpec's

Serey Kosal. In a letter to both Prime Ministers dated Nov 20, while Ranariddh was

away, Kosal complained of CPP intimidation of Funcinpec.

He alleged that on the morning of Nov 20, soldiers loyal to Region 5 Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces (RCAF) chief Hul Savoan (CPP) had searched and disarmed bodyguards of

the province's third (Funcinpec) deputy governor.

Also alleging "anarchic" road blocks and extortion by RCAF soldiers, Kosal

sought the PMs' permission to "maintain social order and security".

He warned: "In the case of any fighting, I and my colleagues will take appropriate

measures in order to defend the supreme national interests, defend the Royal Government,

the nation, religion and King...."

Two days later, a CPP military policeman was shot in the leg during an apparent drunken

scuffle with Funcinpec soldiers at a house in Battambang town.

By Nov 23, Kosal said he had deployed 5,000 troops along Route 5, as far south as

Pursat province. Hun Sen, according to CPP sources, moved soldiers from Koh Kong

to Kompong Speu to reinforce a security cordon around Phnom Penh.

"In any serious circumstances, we will cut Battambang from Phnom Penh,"

Kosal told the Post by telephone Nov 23. "We will shoot to prevent troops from

coming in from Phnom Penh.... Let Hun Sen not to be mistaken about this."

Kosal is one of a closely knit group of Funcinpec officials - including Generals

Nhek Bun Chhay and Khan Savoeun - who are former resistance military leaders with

long histories in the northwest. It was Kosal who in early September told the Post

that attempts to bring in KR "moderates" from the jungle was part of a

deliberate Funcinpec plan to strengthen itself.

One CPP source put the number of soldiers under Kosal's control "in the hundreds,

not the thousands." But he said they included RCAF Region 4 units based in Siem

Reap under Khan Savoeun's control.

Kosal had no authority to give orders to such troops, the CPP source said. He alleged

that Savoeun and Nhek Bun Chhay must have instructed their soldiers to follow Kosal's

orders - and that Ranariddh must have approved the action.

A CPP official said the confrontation had been manufactured by Funcinpec as part

of a campaign to demand - with the newfound support of the KR breakaway forces -

a greater share of grassroots power in Cambodia.

"It's very clear that everything came through Ranariddh, through Nhek Bun Chhay

and that everything was put through Serey Kosal as a smokescreen," the official

said.

Another CPP official said that to control the situation, "Hun Sen had to give

a succession of orders. He had to repeat them several times. Those [Funcinpec] people

are not ordinary people - they are tigers."

The CPP official alleged that Ranariddh - who returned to Cambodia Nov 25, several

days later than scheduled - had deliberately been out of the country to distance

himself from Funcinpec's action.

A senior Funcinpec official, asked if Ranariddh had been aware of the drama while

he was overseas, said: "The Prince was always in contact and knew what was happening.

"The Prince is satisfied with what they have done there.... Serey Kosal had

all the authority to do that - we applaud what he did."

Nhek Bun Chhay, for his part, supported Kosal's complaints that "the other side"

(CPP) had first moved troops to intimidate Funcinpec officials.

It was not the first time that CPP soldiers had attempted to take the guns of Funcinpec

officials in the province, Bun Chhay said.

Asked about the prospect of further armed clashes, he said that the forces of the

former ANKI (Funcinpec's military predecessor from the anti-Vietnamese resistance

days) "do not bear any intention to resume the war".

But, he added, "if [CPP] keep disarming us and pouncing on us, what else can

we do but act in self-defence?"

By Nov 24, the co-Ministers of Defense and co-Ministers of Interior were involved

in negotiations to resolve the issue, and officials on all sides said they were confident

the tension had been eased.

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