FUNCINPEC and the Cambodian People's Party appear embroiled in a contest to woo Khmer
Rouge defectors, culminating in a visit by Prince Norodom Ranariddh to Pailin to
meet Ieng Sary.
The Funcinpec leader did not inform his co-Prime Minister Hun Sen of his intentions
before his apparently spur-of-the-moment Oct 11 trip to Pailin, according to diplomats.
As political observers awaited a response from the Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen
and senior CPP officials maintained a public silence on Ranariddh's move.
However, in a surprise statement himself during an Oct 15 speech, Hun Sen said that
"in a few days, I will make a trip to Pailin to pay a routine visit to the people."
Hun Sen, who said he had received a request from the Sary breakaway group to help
build schools in their region, did not directly refer to Ranariddh's trip.
One Western diplomat described Ranariddh's Pailin visit - in which he and the KR
breakaway leader Ieng Sary lit incense for the dead - as "astonishing".
Another said: "Ranariddh is openly saying 'I feel comfortable with the Khmer
Rouge', and perhaps more comfortable than he is with CPP. This would have been unbelievable
three months ago."
Ranariddh's visit came as hopes faded of a quick integration of the breakaway forces
in Pailin and Phnom Malai under the government umbrella. It also followed an apparent
CPP campaign to lure other KR to defect directly into government ranks.
In a series of dramatic moves, the KR base of Samlot south of Pailin was captured
from hard-line rebels, reportedly sending senior leaders Nuon Chea and Son Sen fleeing
Some of the hard-line troops around Samlot joined the Sary breakaway group, while
others were successfully encouraged to defect straight to the Royal government by
Days later, both the co-Ministers of Defense, Tea Banh (CPP) and Tea Chamrath (Funcinpec)
visited Pailin and met with Ieng Sary and breakaway military chiefs Y Chhean and
Sok Pheap for what was described as informal talks.
The next day, Ranariddh unexpectedly flew to Pailin - at the invitation of Sary,
according to one Funcinpec source - where he met breakaway leader and his wife, Khieu
Thirith, as well as Chhean and Pheap.
On his return to Phnom Penh, Ranariddh told reporters that the breakaway leaders
had asked for a "little delay" in changing to Royal army uniforms and integrating
with the government.
"They have assured that they will definitely do that, but they asked for a bit
of time in order to explain [to their people]... I agreed with their opinion,"
Ranariddh said he "clearly informed" the breakaway chiefs of the need for
national reconciliation in accordance with Cambodia's Constitution, and that they
reiterated their intention to join with the government.
Ranariddh, escorted by several military advisers, about 10 bodyguards and a television
crew from Funcinpec's Channel 9, spent three hours in Pailin. He said he received
very warm hospitality, and noted that the local people were colorfully dressed.
Ranariddh and Sary visited a local pagoda, where they lit incense in accordance with
the Pchum Ben religious holiday which honors the dead. Several diplomats expressed
amazement at the scene, which was broadcast that night on channel 9, with one remarking
dryly: "I suppose Ieng Sary should light a lot of incense."
Diplomats interpreted Ranariddh's visit as intended to strengthen Funcinpec by shoring
up possible support from the breakaway faction, while also accepting a delay in their
There was surprise at the silence of Hun Sen, who had earlier demanded a quick integration
of Pailin and Phnom Malai, over Ranariddh's visit.
"It can be assumed that the news was not well-received by him," said one
diplomat who had expected a stern response from Hun Sen.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh (CPP), after his earlier visit to Pailin, acknowledged
that a delay in integration was likely, but said he hoped it could occur within three
Another CPP official, who would not be named, was more blunt, saying: "Integration?
Integration with whom - the government or Funcinpec?"
Tea Banh's co-Minister, Tea Chamrath (Funcinpec), said: "We must start work
but we cannot move too fast. It's a long haul. The Khmer Rouge ideology is very deep
- we must clear their minds first."
Meanwhile, CPP and the Sary KR faction appeared to embark on a campaign to strengthen
their positions and attract defectors from the Samlot region.
The Samlot base surrendered to the forces of Y Chhean around Oct 1, with an unknown
number of troops there joining the breakaway group.
"Chhean is trying to get these guys over as part of a longer-term strategy,
to boost his position in negotiations with the government.
"If you're going to defect soon to the government, why do you need to bother
to try to get more people behind you?" noted one political observer.
CPP, however, soon began its own attempts to contact KR in the region and encourage
them to defect. CPP's efforts were spearheaded by Keo Pong, a former senior KR commander
who defected to the government a year ago and is considered close to CPP
Within 10 days, some eight KR divisions - totaling a claimed 2,468 fighters - had
agreed to defect directly to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). CPP military
officers including Tea Banh and Keo Pong oversaw a defection ceremony for a small
number of representatives of these KR in Pursat province Oct 13.
"It's really a rivalry over who will get the rest of the Khmer Rouge,"
said one observer of the rash of attempts to secure defectors.
"But the big point is the integration of the Ieng Sary faction and of Divisions
415 and 450 [of Pailin and Phnom Malai]. It's clear that there are major problems
with these people."
General Tum Sambol, a military adviser to Ranariddh who went with the Prime Minister
to Pailin, insisted that there was no contest for KR defectors.
"Most of Samlot has stayed with the breakaway group.
"It's not necessary for them to consider joining the government or joining the
breakaway group - in my mind the breakaway group will become part of the government."
Sambol said there was "no way" that the breakaway group would not join
the government, but "we have to go step by step. We cannot set a deadline."
At the Post's press time, Funcinpec officials were also preparing a defection ceremony
- for Division 519 in Banteay Meanchey, which, significantly, was one of the first
divisions to join the Sary breakaway.
Ranariddh met Division 519 chiefs including Prum Sue (also known as Ta Sue) - a relative
of Funcinpec general Nhek Bun Chhay - during his trip to Pailin.
Sources speculated that 519 would likely be integrated into RCAF with the approval
of Sary, as part of an attempt to show he was serious about integration while also
giving him time to observe how the 519 commanders and rank-and-file were treated
by the government.