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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King sends Rainsy message of support

King sends Rainsy message of support

H is Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk sent a letter of support to Minister of

Economics and Finance Sam Rainsy in what some observers say is an on-going

struggle between the Minister and both Prime Ministers Ranariddh and Hun Sen

over the nation's economic policies, with the most public issue of contention

being the dispute with the Thai Boon Roong (TBR) company over rental fees at the

new Olympic market.

The King in his Jan. 21 letter expressed his

"sincerest gratitude and warmest congratulations to Your Excellency and all your

colleagues in the Ministry for having performed your duty to serve the Cambodian

nation with loyalty, effectiveness and courage, for the higher interests of the

entire Cambodian people."

King Sihanouk noted that Rainsy's report on the

current economic situation, which was transmitted by First Prime Minister

Ranariddh during his recent trip to Beijing "gave a most clear and insightful

report on the economic and financial situation of the Kingdom of Cambodia in

1993."

The King and the Queen also sent their best wishes to Rainsy and

those colleagues who had "strived hard and accepted to make sacrifices in order

to faithfully serve the Cambodian people and Motherland."

The letter

concluded with "May you continue to always encounter only peace, happiness,

prosperity and renewed success in l994 and in the future."

Some senior

officials speculate that the King's letter came in response to a request by

First Prime Minister Ranariddh and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen while they were

in Beijing to have Rainsy removed from his current position.

Ministry of

Economics and Finance officials say that Rainsy feels like he has little support

from cabinet officials, CPP members and even members of his own party as he

attempts to bring revolutionary reforms to the country's economic and financial

structures.

Although, with a public demonstration by students and traders

on Jan. 20 against the Thai Boong Roong company, observers say that Rainsy feels

he has broad-based public support for widespread economic reforms.

Upon

his return from Beijing, First Prime Minister Ranariddh voiced concern that

further tension in the market dispute might drive out foreign investors to seek

business opportunities in neighboring Vietnam.

Speaking on state

television on Jan. 23 the premier appeared to be disappointed at what he

attributed as an attempt to raise support from people who get caught up in the

market dispute.

"While we were in China, some were engaging in demagogy

here," Ranariddh said without specifying who his comments were directed

at.

"Here the question is not about demagogy, just wait for four or five

years when new elections come. Statesmanship and demagogy are two different

things. It's impossible for me to be a practical leader and a demagogue at the

same time, and I would resign to just be president of FUNCINPEC if someone

challenges me," the premier added.

More than 1,000 traders and students

took to the streets on Jan. 20 to show support for Rainsy, while denouncing

Theng Boon Ma, chairman of TBR.

In her late 40s, trader Im Hong said

"Today I decided to close my shop because I'm angry at Theng Boon Ma looking

down on Mr. Sam Rainsy."

"I'm going to pray for the good health of Mr Sam

Rainsy so he will remain a defender of justice for the Khmer people. He is a

real patriot," vendor Seng Y-Gek, holding a bunch of incense sticks said as the

protestors stopped to pray on the riverside opposite the Royal Palace before

proceeding to the National Assembly.

Suong Sophal, a student of the

Economics Institute, said "I support [Sam Rainsy] for his high patriotic spirit

to help the poor. Assemblymen must not turn blind eyes and must not let him act

alone, they must inspect TBR company and kick them out if possible because by

the year 2,000 all land will belong to it."

The unsettled market dispute

has drawn Theng Boon Ma and Sam Rainsy into public confrontation with both sides

using the print media for an exchange of rancorous statements.

Theng Boon

Ma labeled Rainsy "Minister of Destroying Economics and Finance" who replied by

calling the businessman a "crooked investor" who operates the country's

mismanaged economy.

"...The Cambodian people, including myself, are

greatly pained at seeing our country under the economic colonialist yoke of the

TBR company which has the backing of the Mafia operating in nearby countries.

Its power is based on the immense wealth it has drawn from the blood and sweat

of the Khmer people," Rainsy said in his statement issued on Jan.

17.

Angered by the TBR company's disrespect for their leader, the

protesters called Theng Boon Ma "a chairman of the devil company sucking Khmer

blood."

"Crooked TBR company must be kicked out of the Kingdom of

Cambodia" and "Welcome law-abiding foreign investors" read banners at the most

recent demonstration.

The demonstrations made authorities nervous and the

Ministry of Interior issued an order banning state-run television and radio from

airing the event, citing organizers' failure to meet the ministry's law

requesting them to submit an application 72 hours prior to the march.

The

new marketplace provides 4,000 stalls with their prices ranging from US

$6,000-160,000, according to their sizes and prime locations.

Rainsy

estimates the construction capital for the new market at less than US $10

million and said that the rental prices fixed by Theng Boon Ma would make US $30

million in profit for his company which reserves ownership rights on the

building for 15 years.

He suggested that the problem can be solved by

recognizing the "commercial rights" of the 1,951 who maintained stalls in the

old market before the project began. Rainsy argues that these shopkeepers should

be given free rents in the new market.

He also says that he will review

TBR's building permit, check safety and hygiene to see if there is proper

ventilation and access to exits in case of emergency, and determine a fair value

of the market.

He also alleged that TBR made large profits from importing

excessive construction materials before the building was finished.

Some

sources believe that key government officials are financially influenced by the

TBR and are reluctant to deal with the issue on legal basis.

"If the

Royal Government of Cambodia accepts the situation, it becomes a defacto

alliance between TBR and the nation. Two opposing natures, an alliance which is

anti-democratic because the people have not chosen to accept the rule of TBR.

It's anti-national, anti-popular," the official added.

Since assuming his

position, Rainsy has launched a series of operations backed by the government

military police, to reinforce rules and regulations in an attempt to control the

country's economy and to collect taxes for the state treasury.

His prime

targets are tax and duty from imports and exports which account for 54 per cent

of the overall state revenues.

He recently started reinforcing

tax-collection from vehicles that are believed to have been smuggled and resold

many times from one hand to another without proper documentation.

Consumers have blamed the minister for being unfair and insisted he

should better deal with corrupt customs officers.

And, other sources

argued that Rainsy's policy to improve economic regulations by recalling

mistakes of the previous government would jeopardize cooperation between the two

main parties-FUNCINPEC and CPP-and the new government's investment

policy.

"His reference to all negative points in the former regime is

equal to suicide for the two main parties, automatically, then of the people.

The winner without any effort will be the Khmer Rouge. He must not use his

expertise alone, but (pursue) a policy which will be acceptable to everybody,"

said another senior government official who asked not to be

identified.

"His effort is mixed with his ambition and personality cult

that he is the only capable person who cares about the country's economy," he

said.

Prince Ranariddh said he would maintain a position of referee in

the dispute and said that his government would seek a settlement satisfactory

for all conflicting sides by relying on the reality of the existing

problem.

"We will resolve the problem and we won't make anyone a 100

percent winner or a 100 percent looser," he promised.

Ahmad Yahya, a

parliamentarian, has complained about slow readiness of ministries to come up

with clear-cut laws that would help them to carry out their duties more

effectively.

"Personally, I'm very upset with the head of the company

[TBR] who thinks that with the power of money they can do anything they want.

But, the constitution alone is not enough, that's why it is very difficult

situation for us to act. We've urged them to prepare bills to be passed," said

Yahya.

"But from 1994 power is not money, power is rules and regulations.

I believe rules and regulations will work," he said.

He insisted that

there must be thorough investigation to produce sufficient proof of improper

business activity by TBR.

Journalists tried on numerous occasion to reach

Theng Boon Ma, but the Cambodian-Chinese born businessman with Thai citizenship

has not been available for comment.

In his statement dated Jan.14, he,

however, categorically denied Rainsy's charges and qualified him as "a low-grade

individual."

He accused the minister of attempting to break up solidarity

in the royal government- between FUNCINPEC and the CPP-and said "Such an

attitude and words really threaten investors from doing business to contribute

to the restoration of economic foundation of the nation."

He called on

Rainsy "Do not hesitate to come and inspect our company, we are prepared to

welcome you."

"But if the result does not come out as what you have said,

would you have the courage to be 'a patriot' or not?" he asked.

Rainsy

said "I want things to reverse now. I want good investors to chase out bad

investors with the weapons of law and regulations, weapons of people who are

dedicated to defend the interests of their country."

His response to

Theng Boon Ma was that he would send a team to inspect the company, and he also

said "I will fight until the end for my Nation, Religion and King"-the motto of

the Cambodian constitution.

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