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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Neutral' DNUM put to the test

'Neutral' DNUM put to the test

PAILIN - One year after breaking away from the Pol Pot command of the Khmer Rouge,

Pailin's professed political neutrality appeared to come under its biggest threat

ever.

With hundreds of food vendors from Battambang on hand for the first anniversary celebrations

held Aug 14-17, and the sounds of music echoing through the former war zone, Pailin

governor Ee Chhean claimed an assassination attempt against his life.

Chhean - the former commander of KR Div 415, now a Major-General in the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces and the official governor of Pailin - said a coup d'etat against him

by four of his comrades had been averted.

Chhean, in his anniversary speech before a crowd of hundreds, named the coup ringleader

as his deputy governor, General Sok Savouen.

The intrigue appeared to be part of the fallout from the Phnom Penh showdown between

Funcinpec and CPP military forces.

Military sources in Pailin told the Post that a group of 40 from Pailin were backed

by outside forces linked to the CPP, and some suspected that Hun Sen had supported

the plot.

"General Sok Savouen ... wanted to align Pailin with the CPP secretly,"

said Colonel Phann Pich. "He spread rumors about our forces being aligned with

Anlong Veng, and planned to deploy 10 of our tanks at three strategic locations,

and then kill our top five leaders including General Chhean."

The plan was to ambush the governor's truck with B40 rockets, but one of the soldiers

ordered to carry out the attack leaked it to the authorities in the week before the

anniversary celebrations, Col Pich said.

CPP military sources denied any involvement, and pointed to Chhean's authoritarian

way of running Pailin, grievances against him, and business disagreements over the

sharing of gem revenues, as the main cause of unrest in Pailin.

Christophe Peschoux, a KR historian, noted a long-standing animosity between Chhean

and Savoeun over military ranks and promotions. Savoeun was supposedly passed over

for promotions in favor of another general, Chhun Nhep.

In the wake of the alleged coup attempt, both Chhean and long-time ally General Sok

Pheap, military chief of Phnom Malai, visited Phnom Penh and met with CPP leaders.

In interviews with the Post in the capital, both men denied that there had been any

coup plot. Some of their followers, unhappy about not having enough food, had intended

to kill Chhean because they believed he was withholding rice, they said.

Chhean, however, did say that he believed the plotters had been encouraged by outsiders.

"Someone from outside came to provoke the dispute. It was not ... a political

party but a group of people," he said. He would not elaborate, saying: "The

story is finished now."

While both the KR hard-liners in Anlong Veng and Funcinpec forces fighting at O'Smach

claim that Pailin and Malai - and specifically Ee Chhean - are on their side, Chhean

strongly denied that.

"I have no relationship with Prince Norodom Ranariddh or General Nhek Bun Chhay,"

he said in his speech in Pailin, also denying that he had had any contact with Anlong

Veng since breaking away from Pol Pot.

From the beginning of their breakaway, the former KR, known as the Democratic National

United Movement (DNUM), have attempted to maintain bipartisan dialogue with both

Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen.

While CPP officials and independent observers have long harbored doubts about the

real leanings of DNUM, many diplomats and other analysts doubt that the movement

is willing to return to war.

Money - believed to be a key factor for the breakaway in the first place - is today

still widely considered a major issue for Pailin and Malai, who have retained their

economic autonomy.

"I do not believe that the leaders of Pailin and Malai are ready to adventure

themselves in an unstable future," said one analyst of the prospect of DNUM

aligning itself with Ranariddh's resistance forces. "Today, it is pretty stable

in their areas and they can do business."

In Pailin, one of Chhean's advisors, who would not be identified, said: "Ee

Chhean looks after his people like a father takes care of his family - that is why

there is no accounting for the money from gems and logging."

As long as Ee Chhean keeps Pailin out of the fighting, the advisor says, "Ee

Chhean will keep the allegiance of most people - their priority is peace."

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