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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Politics does strange things...

Politics does strange things...

TWO recently ousted Khmer Nation Party steering committee members launched a barrage

of accusations against Sam Rainsy, alternately hinting at bribery, authoritarianism,

Khmer Rouge links and predicting the KNP president will become a "Vietnamese

puppet" if elected.

Cracks appear to be widening in KNP, as the high-level expulsions test party loyalties.

KNP officials maintain that they are cohesive, but admit that the decision to sack

a total of three steering committees members may cause further divisiveness.

Hen Koy, Sam Vuthy and Hen Phirak, alias Hen Vipheak - the name he used as editor

of the Sereipheap Thmei (New Liberty) newspaper - were dismissed because of activities

harmful to the party's interests, according to KNP officials.

At a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club Mar 12, Vuthy and

Vipheak responded by lambasting Rainsy.

Giving no proof of their allegations, the pair said they would later reveal new information,

including Rainsy's alleged links with the KR.

At the same time Vuthy charged that Rainsy would become a "Vietnamese puppet"

if elected.

KNP officials said they were concerned about ongoing feuds within the party.

"Recently, there has been some quarrels caused by divergent views. I am concerned

because I don't want to see divisions," secretary general Khieu Rada said.

He said he was one of nine people who voted against the trio's removal, which was

approved by 23 votes of the steering committee. Rada said he had to respect the decision

of the majority although he believed that the trio could have been forgiven for the

sake of party unity.

Hor Sokpheap, a steering committee member, said: "It hurt us when we removed

them, but the longer we kept them, the worse they could have become, so we had to

do the surgery."

The expulsions followed January's removal of Samreth Ret, the president of Free Reconciliation

Party which merged with KNP last year. He later became a KNP vice-president.

"Sam Rainsy who used to be a democrat has increasingly become, from day to day,

authoritarian," Vipheak, who once was jailed for defamation of Cambodia's Prime

Ministers, alleged at his press conference.

With temperatures of about 40 degrees Celsius at the press conference, Vipheak wore

a winter scarf around his neck. He threatened to take "legal action" against

a journalist who was having a loud conversation over a mobile phone.

"Order please. If you don't [maintain order], I'll take legal action against

you. I paid $80 for the rental of this [FCC] space for the conference," Vipheak

warned the journalist.

Vuthy and Vipheak failed to give an explanation about their expulsion, saying that

their lives would be in danger if they discussed the motives of their expulsion.

"What's the point of calling the press conference? So far, you have given us

nothing but groundless allegations we cannot use," a reporter asked them.

Saying nothing, Vuthy and Vipheak looked at each other.

Vuthy went on to call the KNP an "illegal political movement". He said

demonstrations led by Rainsy were intended to overthrow the government. In a contradiction

to Rainsy's public outspokenness against Vietnam, Vuthy alleged that Rainsy would

become a Vietnamese puppet if he wins the 1998 elections.

In perhaps the most bizarre event of the party's squabbles, two days before the press

conference, Vuthy - kitted out in an army uniform - burned some 3,500 copies of Neak

Prayuth (Fighter) newspaper outside KNP's offices.

The action was in response to a Ministry of Information decision recognizing Oun

Sokhom, a founder of the newspaper, as publisher. Vuthy, who formerly worked for

the paper, claimed that Rainsy had bribed ministry officials so they would not recognize

his position in the newspaper.

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