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Senate go-ahead

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Nhek Bun Chhay: slated for key role in new senate

AFTER an historic Mar 4 vote in the National Assembly, Cambodia is poised to create

its new Senate - and Prime Minister Hun Sen will allow his former nemesis Nhek Bun

Chhay to become the first deputy president in the high legislative body.

The Assembly voted 106-5 for the Constitutional amendments necessary to create the

Senate, by a show of hands.

Following the vote, Prince Ranariddh said: "Samdech Hun Sen has agreed with

me that it is good to select general Nhek Bun Chhay as a member of the Senate and

it is up to the party. If the party proposes I would also support the candidacy of

Gen Nhek Bun Chhay as deputy chief of the senate."

He said that he had not yet held a party meeting to officially make the nomination.

Bun Chhay, the former RCAF deputy chief of staff, became the leader of the Funcinpec

resistance army after July 1997's coup split the armed forces along party lines.

The sturdy general gained near-legend status in a dramatic escape from Phnom Penh

after his troops were defeated, defying a CPP manhunt and turning up in the border

stronghold of O'Smach.

He remained there, directing the Funcinpec armed resistance, and was convicted in

absentia for weapons smuggling in March 1998.

The November 1998 deal between the Funcinpec and CPP parties which led to the formation

of the government also included a full amnesty for Bun Chhay.

He is currently living in Bangkok and has not yet announced plans to return.

Ranariddh said: "Samdech Hun Sen has told me and I also inform H.E Nhek Bun

Chhay to come back, no need to wait until the establishment of the Senate, and he

[Hun Sen] will welcome H.E Nhek Bun Chhay at his residence."

Funcinpec MP Monh Saphan, chairman of the Assembly's legislative commission, said

Bun Chhay's new role will allow him to implement his duty for the people and the

nation and that the party supports the nomination.

He added that the appointment of senators is the internal affair of each party, done

by committee. "There is not influence from one to another," he explained.

"When this law [the Constitutional amendments] is finished debate and after

it is promulgated, the list of the senators will be issued, and the Senate will make

its own internal regulations," he said.

Proportional to their share of National Assembly seats, there will be 31 senators

from the CPP, 21 from Funcinpec, and seven from the Sam Rainsy Party.

The SRP opposed the formation of the Senate, calling it a waste of money, but will

now turn its attention to selecting its senators.

"Now that we are not able to undermine [Senate formation], for the people who

voted for the Sam Rainsy Party, and since the King has already agreed, we are not

able to oppose the King and people, we have to appoint our senators," said SRP

parliamentarian Son Chhay.

"Our party is different from the other parties in that they have already made

a list of senators," he added.

Son Chhay said the SRP had no objection to the nomination of Nhek Bun Chhay.

"His Excellency Nhek Bun Chhay had been amnestied, but he used to be a military

officer, and he would return to the country without forces and to be a civilian is

not easy," he said, adding that therefore there must be a guarantee of safety

in law and in practice.

"In this regard, the position of first deputy chief of the Senate is the only

choice that the Funcinpec has to be able to protect him when he returns," he

underlined.

The SRP's Kong Korm - a defector from the CPP party - is also waiting for Senatorial

immunity to return from Thailand, Chhay added.

Ranariddh said the Assembly had already approved the Senate's budget in December

1998. "Therefore, the budget has been already prepared," he said. Son Chhay

estimated the budget would be about $1 million.

As has been specified since the November deal, CPP President Chea Sim will head the

Senate. Kosal said Funcinpec's Prince Sisowath Chivorn Monirak will take the second

deputy president post.

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