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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sihanouk Slams Political Violence

Sihanouk Slams Political Violence

Sou Sarith sat in the residence of FUNCINPEC party chief Prince Nor-odom Ranariddh

and told how uniformed men in a government military vehicle came to his rural district

last week, abducted and beat him, and then ripped out one of his eyes.

His torturers, he said, were local officials of the Phnom Penh regime, who objected

to his organizing support for an opposition party.

The attack on Sarith, 29, is one of a series of 18 assaults on offices and officials

of FUNCINPEC since late November that have left 20 of their party workers dead and

22 wounded. Many fear that as Cambodia's campaign period comes into full swing for

elections slated for May, the political atmosphere will become increasingly bloody.

The attacks have forced to the surface growing frustration with the United Nations

Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), and prompted a series of critical declarations

by the political parties, UNTAC, and Prince Sihanouk since the new year.

Both Sihanouk and Prince Ranariddh accuse Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party

(CPP) of initiating a campaign of death squads and intimidation to stem a growing

tide of support for opposition parties that is likely to oust the former communist

regime from power.

In response to the attacks, on Jan. 4 Prince Norodom Sihanouk, chairman of the Supreme

National Council, declared he would cease all dealings with the Hun Sen regime as

well as with UNTAC.

Although Sihanouk, who has used threats of resignation for years as a tool of political

leverage, came back into the fold a few days later, his threats made it clear to

UNTAC that they must institute concrete measures to address the deteriorating situation.

The break with UNTAC reflects widespread frustration with the peacekeeping operation's

apparent impotence in fulfilling the primary objective of the U.S. $2.8 billion dollar

Paris peace agreements, which is to create a safe and neutral political environment

in which to conduct elections.

Sihanouk's criticism of the State of Cambodia (SOC) is the first time since the signing

of the peace accord 14 months ago that the prince has publicly attacked the regime.

This is likely to deal a serious blow to SOC's popularity in a country where Sihanouk

is widely revered as the sole beacon that can guide Cambodia towards democracy and

some level of stability.

While Prime Minister Hun Sen denied his party was involved in any attacks, blaming

"Khmer Rouge infiltrators and bandits," UNTAC officials say they have hard

evidence that SOC and its Cambodian People's Party have launched a campaign of political

violence and intimidation.

Diplomats and UNTAC officials say that if current trends continue it is clear that

Hun Sen's party will lose the elections to FUNCINPEC.

The ruling party has vigorously attempted to form a coalition government with FUNCINPEC

prior to the elections as a means to stem eroding support as opposition parties begin

to set up dozens of new offices in rural districts.

According to Ranariddh, the attacks on FUNCINPEC followed his refusal in mid-November

meetings with powerful CPP boss Chea Sim to strengthen an alliance between the two

parties.

The campaign of intimidation has apparently worked. FUNCINPEC has already registered

more than 400,000 party members since last fall, and hundreds could be seen daily

lining up in front of their party offices through December to join. But in the wake

of the violence

FUNCINPEC officials say new memberships have dropped 40 percent in recent weeks and

party workers fear for their lives.

Credibility Gap

A primary causality of the war of rhetoric between the various players since the

new year appears to be UNTAC's credibility, and the Phnom Penh Post has learned that

UNTAC may attempt to force the resignation of senior SOC officials for complicity

in the political violence.

Such a move could put great strain on the relationship between UNTAC and the Hun

Sen regime, whose cooperation is vital during the election process to maintain the

U.N.'s access to the 80 percent of the population that lives under SOC control.

"We have gotten no results from UNTAC on investigations of political violence.

We know very well even the names of the SOC officials who are behind it," Ranariddh

told the Post in an interview on Jan. 10.

He accused the top SOC leadership, including Chea Sim and Hun Sen, of orchestrating

the campaign of violence and called for UNTAC to take action.

"There are clear provisions of the Paris Agreement that UNTAC has the right

to remove and dismiss anyone responsible," Ranariddh said.

"The governor of Battambang is involved in political violence, yet he is still

governor. UNTAC is reluctant to take forceful measures because UNTAC is afraid that

the SOC will withdraw cooperation from UNTAC," he said.

UNTAC responded last week by announcing the formation of an UNTAC special prosecutor's

office and court system designed to indict, prosecute, sentence, and imprison those

they deem responsible for political crimes.

A senior UNTAC official told the Post that they "were prepared to move against

powerful regional figures" who are implicated in the political violence.

Sources close to UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi say that it is likely he will begin with

Battambang governor Ung Sami, who they say they have hard evidence is involved in

the spate of attacks against opposition party workers and offices in recent weeks.

Battle lines were drawn on Jan. 12 when SOC officials-saying UNTAC had no proof of

the charges against Ung Sami-threatened to end cooperation with UNTAC if it attempted

to remove the governor, who is the nephew of Chea Sim

"If UNTAC insists on removing him, first UNTAC will have to remove the prime

minister [Hun Sen], and SOC won't cooperate with UNTAC anymore," said SOC spokesman

Khieu Kanharith.

There is also pressure from within UNTAC to remove from office senior officials of

the SOC national security apparatus they believe have ordered assassinations.

Such moves would likely also cause a serious backlash by SOC officials but would

go a long way to restoring confidence of the political opposition in UNTAC.

Responding to the criticisms of UNTAC coming from three of the four major political

factions, Akashi acknowledged on Jan. 11 that "the neutral political atmosphere

which is indispensable for free elections is not yet brought about."

"If persistent acts of violence and political intimidation continue I would

not hesitate to use that right [to remove officials]," he confirmed.

All eyes remain on Akashi to see if he and UNTAC follow through with concrete action

to keep the peace plan on track.

Presidential Elections

Meanwhile, after months of increasingly rancorous debate that has divided the five

permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, it was agreed to change the mandate

of the Paris agreement to add an additional election for a president.

Sihanouk announced last week that he would be a candidate and his election is all

but guaranteed. The presidential election will be held either simultaneously or immediately

prior to the already scheduled constituent assembly elections.

The Paris agreement originally called for the election of a constituent assembly

in May 1993. Under that scenario, the assembly in turn would draft a constitution

and form a legislative assembly, which could then define the powers of a president

and call for elections of an executive.

But since the fall of 1992, France, with the support of Russia, has proposed holding

presidential elections as early as February 1993. The move has been met with strong

opposition by the other permanent members of the Security Council-China, the United

States, and Great Britain. Australia also strongly opposes the move.

Critics of the push for early presidential elections say it is a thinly-disguised

attempt to abandon the constituent assembly elections.

The election of a president-combined with increasing political instability and violence-could

force an elected head of state to form a provisional government that would likely

rely heavily on the existing administrative structures in the country, which are

largely controlled by SOC. The Russians back their long time SOC allies in such a

strategy.

Sihanouk, it is argued, wants to have the legitimate authority of his elected presidency

in order to guide and cajole the political parties during what is expected to be

a tumultuous period of forming a new government.

It is said he is extremely wary of giving a national assembly extensive powers, and

favours a strong presidency, at least in part to avoid a situation that allowed the

national assembly in 1970 to vote unanimously for his overthrow, ushering in the

22 years of turmoil and bloodshed that continue to the present.

While currently head of state and chairman of the Supreme National Council, in reality

he holds no formal power. He is insisting on presidential elections prior to the

writing of a new constitution "because he wants to avoid a situation where he

is hostage to a constituent assembly," said a senior Perm Five diplomat in Phnom

Penh.

The State of Cambodia, as well, is increasingly alarmed at the prospect of losing

power in any freely-elected government, and diplomats and opposition parties contend

that they are doing everything they can to avoid going through with constituent assembly

elections.

The French, critics argue, are engaged in a long-term approach to position themselves

for dominant influence with whatever new government is formed, seeking to curry favour

with Sihanouk and others who they assume will be in power when the peace process

plays itself out.

The French charge that the Americans and other opponents of the early presidential

elections are being unrealistic and naive, that Khmer Rouge intransigence and the

deteriorating conditions for elections require a fresh approach to building a stable

society.

While the proponents of an early presidential election have different reasons for

backing such a move, the holding of such an election near the time of the scheduled

constituency assembly elections has allayed the fears of opponents.

Further, UNTAC and the Perm Five representatives agree that the political environment

in Cambodia is extremely fragile and requires concessions to Sihanouk to insure that

he continues to act as an ally of the peacekeeping effort.

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