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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge gambit: peace or peril?

Khmer Rouge gambit: peace or peril?

AFTER a tense political stand-off over the future of Khmer Rouge chief Ieng Sary,

Hun Sen appears to have offered an olive branch to Prince Norodom Ranariddh to help

control a potentially explosive situation.

Hun Sen - who had earlier appeared to be attempting to dictate events for his own

political gain - went to see his co-Prime Minister last Saturday to offer that they

work together on the KR and other issues.

Power-sharing between Fun-cinpec and CPP, at the heart of major divisions within

the coalition for months, is believed to have been discussed at the meeting.

"The Prime Ministers have mended their fences," said Fun-cinpec General

Nhek Bun Chhay, closely involved with negotiations with the KR in northwestern Cambodia.

Asked about a rumored fresh agreement on power-sharing, he said: "Yes, but they

did not say precisely about the 50-50 sharing of the districts... but they agreed

to solve the problems that have not been solved."

Foreign diplomats have privately and persuasively suggested to both leaders about

what a great opportunity they now have to jointly forge a peace - fearing that if

the delicate issue is mishandled or misunderstood in any way the result could be


Long-standing divisions between Funcinpec and CPP have been added to by the breakaway

of thousands of KR troops and their families in Pailin and Phnom Malai.

Sources say the dramatic KR rebellion - which potentially could lead to a fatal weakening

of the guerrilla movement - has revived political and military divisions within the

government coalition.

For the past fortnight, the Prime Ministers appeared in serious dispute over the

handling of the KR breakaway.

Hun Sen publicly declared that thousands of KR troops had defected - they later said

they had broken away from the "old guard" of the KR but had not defected

to the government - after negotiations personally controlled by him.

He pledged to "protect" Ieng Sary, the breakaway leader, which some politicians

interpreted as entertaining the possibility of permitting the former KR chief to

defect to the government.

Ranariddh, meanwhile, echoing private consultations he had with his father King Sihanouk,

declared that Ieng Sary was a mass murderer who should be punished.

At the heart of the dispute appeared to be Hun Sen's attempt to claim public credit

for provoking the KR split.

Sources, however, maintain that Funcinpec officials initiated negotiations with elements

of the KR. Bun Chhay has been known to have been talking to the KR for a year, according

to some sources, and his uncle Ta Sou is the commander of KR Division 519.

What is unclear is whether Funcinpec was attempting to negotiate defections - or

an alliance with the KR - to present a united front in the face of any confrontation

with CPP.

The CPP has in recent months strongly suspected that Funcinpec has been preparing

a strategy to seize three northwest provinces - Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay

Meanchey - with the help of the KR. Funcinpec says the sole aim of the talks were

to encourage more defections - which has been a successful strategy by the RCAF and

one that, till now, appears to have particularly strengthened neither Funcinpec nor


Hun Sen - either because he did not want Funcinpec to take the public credit for

any mass defections or because he suspected a KR-Funcinpec alliance was pending -

took action.

Military sources say Hun Sen instructed senior CPP military to make contact with

KR groups.

Around the same time, an apparent crackdown within the KR by hardliners such as Ta

Mok prompted an internal rebellion, with Ieng Sary at its center.

The effect that Phnom Penh negotiations may have had in sparking the revolt is unclear,

but on Aug 7 the KR clandestine radio unleashed a diatribe against Sary accusing

him of being a traitor.

The next day Hun Sen declared that thousands of KR troops - headed by divisional

commanders loyal to Ieng Sary - had defected.

Hun Sen said he and the CPP Minister of Defence Tea Banh had been negotiating with

the defectors for two months.

He later said he was prepared to talk to the KR chief at any time.

"If we can avoid bloodshed and the deaths of thousands of lives because of his

leadership [in breaking away], we must welcome him," said Hun Sen, though he

stopped short of saying that Sary should be permitted to return to Phnom Penh.

Ranariddh later said that some people had talked about possible KR defections "at

the wrong time" and that, as far as he was concerned, Sary and other senior

KR leaders were completely unacceptable.

King Sihanouk, in written comments in his monthly bulletin, wrote that Sary was a

"pirate thirsting for riches" and "a traitor... excrement."

Meanwhile, representatives from about ten KR Divisions are believed to be involved

with negotiations with RCAF officers in northwestern Cambodia.

Initially, Funcinpec officers were believed to be handling some negotiations, and

CPP others. After Hun Sen's meeting with Ranariddh, a joint approach was worked out.

At the Post's press time, a joint Funcinpec-CPP negotiating team had hammered out

some agreements with envoys from the breakaway KR group. They included a ceasefire

and a joint RCAF-KR working group to continue negotiations.

A stumbling block, however, was a request from the KR rebels for a definitive position

from Phnom Penh on the future of Ieng Sary.

Representing the KR breakaway group was Y Chhean, commander of KR Division 415 based

at Pailin, Sok Pheap, commander of Div 450 at Phnom Malai and Ieng Savuth, son of


For the government, there was General Nhek Bun Chhay (Funcinpec), General Pol Saroeun

(CPP) and the first secretary of the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, Long Sarin.

According to Bun Chhay, Y Chhean asked for the Royal government to give an official

position on the case of Ieng Sary.

Sok Pheap had earlier told Thai journalists that the breakaway group wanted to be

given the right to start a political party under the leadership of Sary.

Bun Chhay said he had relayed Chhean's request to Phnom Penh and was awaiting a response

from the Prime Ministers.



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