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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Nation's political darkness deepens

Nation's political darkness deepens

ANOTHER couple of attempts at striking a CPP-Funcinpec

coalition have been botched in the past fortnight.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen tentatively floated the

idea of a bipartite sharing of the coveted chair of the

National Assembly around Oct 20.

It seemed a concession worthy of debate, and insiders

say it was one the CPP might have finally calculated it

should give. But "the party would have retained full

control of the [power of the] position anyway," said

one CPP source.

The CPP allowed the information to go public a couple

of days later, but instead maintained that it was

Funcinpec that had offered the idea to CPP president Chea

Sim, who currently holds the position. Funcinpec

immediately denied having done so.

But, behind the scenes, this little public flurry was

little more than a cover-up for a "concession"

that had already been shot dead in the water.

The CPP had actually approached Funcinpec's Prince

Norodom Sirirath, Cambodia's ambassador to the United

Nations and one of the new royalist MPs for Battambang,

to fill the position - and to sell the deal to his party

as a way out of the deadlock.

In exchange, according to wide and knowledgeable

intelligence, the CPP promised to take care of various

bothersome accounts belonging to the Prince.

Sirirath dined with senior party members, including

Secretary General Tol Lah, and various foreign diplomats,

and floated the idea of a dual Assembly chairmanship to

elicit reaction, sources confirmed.

Insiders say that the diplomats who were approached

were very supportive of the suggestion. One source said

that any potential to break the impasse - however

unworkable it might be in practice - would be gladly

nurtured by frustrated diplomats in this present climate.

Funcinpec immediately slam-med the idea when it was

reported back to Bangkok. It is understood Sirirath has

been discredited within party ranks.

"A co-chair position might have been great - if

it was offered in August," said one political

analyst. "But how could Ranariddh possibly accept

this sort of approach now? This plan may as well be


The Sirirath affair was the second political move to

be spun with disinformation in the past fortnight.

Some recent reports had Interior Minister Sar Kheng

requesting a meeting with Ranariddh, possibly in

Singapore where Ranariddh was about to travel. It was

suggested that Ranariddh however refused to meet the

deputy prime minister.

However, CPP sources in Phnom Penh say Ranariddh was

not to blame. They say that Hun Sen had outlined a plan

to Sar Kheng for him to offer to the Prince, but Kheng


"Sar Kheng could have been accused of making

deals... it was an obvious trap and he refused to go. But

the rumors are now the other way, that Sar Kheng

initiated it," one said.

The feeling within the ruling party now is that all

moves and decisions are entirely up to Hun Sen, according

to both party and diplomatic sources.

"Analyze the speeches by Hun Sen [at Chaktomuk

Hall Oct 22 at the King's Birthday celebration] and Chea

Sim [in a press release from his Cabinet the following

day]," said the CPP source. "Hun Sen is

prepared to go alone... combatative. Chea Sim seems much

more conciliatory. There is a big difference going on


Hun Sen said too much time had been wasted talking.

"The suffering and hardship of the people prompted

the current government to free itself from being the

hostage to the politicians in the minority...," he


"We do not allow anyone to take part in the

government in order to undermine the government,

hampering the government to serve the people."

Saying "if we idle away and wait, it means

death", Hun Sen outlined a seven-point plan to

combat corruption, impunity, and to reform the judiciary

and economy - without having to wait on a coalition.

Chea Sim, the next day, instead made a rare public

statement that: "The Cambodian's People's Party and

Funcinec are good partners. They are the vital nucleus

for the resolution of the current deadlock."

He seemed willing for further dialogue between the two


Diplomats spoken to by the Post say that, despite

everything, they still see a glimmer of hope that some

quid pro quo deal will be struck. However, this was a

feeling born of hope rather than logic, many admitted.

"It's a zero sum game [that everyone] seems

determined to play," said one. "Development is

going back to the dogs."

One senior official outlined a grim scenario of

kidnappings and crime rising, social unrest escalating

and the resistance in the northwest being weak although

balanced by an administration in Phnom Penh that was

corrupt and disinterested in social problems. "It's

like 1981. The only difference is that in the 1980s both

the resistance and the government grew in strength

together, and only out of this strength could a deal be

done. But now one side is weak and one side is corrupted

and disinterested, all that may happen is anarchy....

real anarchy.

"If, once the technocrats that actually wanted to

do some good for the country leave, they'll leave for

good. That's bad. I cannot see a way out."

Meanwhile, a new shadowy force based in the northwest

has emerged this week claiming to stand for all that is

good in Cambodia.

The Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) issued a

statement this week saying 800 soldiers in the northwest

have declared support for the movement which says it aims

to promote "democracy and human rights".

However the announcement has sparked a series of

denials and accusations between the government and

Funcinpec loyalists under Nhek Bun Chhay.

The government says the CFF is a front for Bun Chhay,

who in turn says the CFF is a ruse by Hun Sen to test

loyalties within the army.

Bun Chhay said that the group had been created by Hun

Sen through his military adviser Gen. Mul Roeup in order

to find and weed out RCAF soldiers who were not loyal to

the CPP.

"It is a trick group. They [CPP] want to kill any

soldiers who are still loyal to me," Bun Chhay said

by telephone on Oct 27.

Some of the RCAF soldiers became involved with the CFF

secretly, especially the soldiers in the Region No. 5 who

used to be Khan Savoeun's command, Bun Chhay claimed.

He said soldiers had to consent to having their

pictures taken if they wished to join the CFF. They were

told the pictures would then be sent to the United States

in an effort to raise American aid.

However Bun Chhay said that instead of America the

pictures were being sent to Hun Sen so he could see who

was disloyal.

He said some RCAF commanders including Thoeuk Tham had

escaped and joined him in O'Smach when they learned the

group was a CPP front. "They were frightened,"

he said.

He said 460 soldiers of RCAF Divison 7 were supposed

to be brought to him by their commander, Thoek Tham, but

he instead asked them to stay put and to protect the

territory from occupation by government soldiers.

However Mul Roeup, military adviser to Hun Sen, denied

this version, claiming the CFF was actually a Bun Chhay

creation designed to confuse the public and the


"I am not the owner of CFF and have not asked any

of my people to form up this unit," he said.

"It belongs to Nhek Bun Chhay."

Meanwhile the CFF itself says that neither Roeup nor

Bun Chhay were correct.

Yon Sok San, who is apparently the CFF Commander in

Chief, said the group was non-political, other than being

anti-communist. It was set up after the July coup but

officially came into being in October.

He said that the CFF would accept any soldiers who

wished to join and respect the group's rules.

The CFF had set up its flag in Thmar Pouk in Banteay

Meanchey province and Hun Sen had sent 15 trucks loaded

with soldiers to fight the CFF. But he said that there

was no fighting because both sides talked and realized

they agreed on many issues.



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