C AMBODIA'S unruly politics have drawn an expression of concern from the country's
biggest investor and strongest regional backer, Malaysia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad urged the co-prime ministers to resolve
the differences between their parties, in a letter Dec 20 stressing Cambodia's need
for political stability.
Analysts said Mahathir's letter was prompted by the political tensions between Funcinpec
and the Cambodian People's Party, seemingly tightening toward a crisis point in recent
weeks. The planned return of banished Funcinpec politician Prince Norodom Sirivudh,
and continued clashes in the countryside, turned the screw another twist tighter
- but the feared crisis did not occur, raising hopes that the tensions might be easing,
if only slightly.
Both Prime Ministers played down the letter.
"It is not advice. They are only interested in our taking care," Hun Sen
said. An advisor to Ranariddh would say only that the letter involved matters of
"international cooperation." Malaysia is the main sponsor of Cambodia's
bid for membership in Asean.
Meanwhile, Sirivudh appears to have backed away from confrontation by postponing
his planned return to Phnom Penh. A source close to the former Funcinpec secretary
general - who was banished just over a year ago for his alleged involvement in a
plot to kill Hun Sen - confirmed Dec 23 he would remain in France for at least ten
days to holiday with his family in the south.
Sirivudh's announced intention to return before year's end sparked a heated response
from CPP figures, with national Police Chief Hok Lundy threatening his immediate
Hun Sen first sounded threatening, announcing that he would meet Sirivudh at Pochentong
airport with tanks and rocket launchers - but then backed away himself, declaring
that if Sirivudh returned he would he would greet him with flowers.
"If Sirivudh is short of money for a return ticket, ask me. I will buy a ticket
for him," Hun Sen said Dec 17 in an apparent jibe at a recent claim by the prince
that he could no longer afford to live in France.
Some analysts said Hun Sen appeared to be goading the King to act on his own volition
and grant Sirivudh a pardon, thus undermining the King's repeated assertions that
he was not involved in politics.
Under Cambodia's constitution the King can offer amnesty to anyone convicted of a
crime - Sirivudh was convicted in absentia on illegal firearms charges - but he has
consistently said he will not do so without the approval of both prime ministers.
Ranariddh formally requested Dec 19 that the King pardon Sirivudh, but at press time
the King had not responded. However, just a day earlier he reiterated he had no intention
of pardoning Sirividh without Hun Sen's approval.
Hun Sen, in turn, has consistently maintained that he has no such intention.
Meanwhile, tension in the northwest provincial capital of Battambang is continuing
despite claims that problems there had been resolved through a series of meetings
between officials from both coalition partners.
Funcinpec's first deputy governor Serey Kosal and the party's provincial police chief
Varn Chhunly told the Post Dec 22 that the CPP had set up an assassination squad
to murder Funcinpec officials.
CPP governor Ung Samy and deputy police chief Mok Dara strongly denied the allegation.
Samy said the claim was simply a tactic to discredit the CPP but Dara confirmed Kosal
had boosted security around his house with a force of fifty troops.
Funcinpec and CPP faced off in Battambang late last month and skirmishes between
troops loyal to the opposing factions resulted in the wounding of several soldiers.