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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A test of wills among the northwest tigers

A test of wills among the northwest tigers

T he recent trouble in Battambang has a long history behind it, Christine Chaumeau

and Chea Sotheacheath report.

"NEVER have two male tigers in the one cave," said a member of the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP) as he summed up the situation in Battambang with a Khmer proverb.

"If two male tigers are together, one will be killed..."

The two tigers in the proverb could well be Ung Samy and Serei Kosal, governor and

deputy governor respectively of this northwestern province.

It is no surprise that Battambang should be a tinder-box of political wrangling and

rivalry, given the history of the individuals involved.

"We will no longer be intimidated," said Serei Kosal. "For each bullet

from them, we will reply with 10 B-40 rockets."

Serei Kosal was the man who two weeks ago announced that he had moved troops in answer

to what he claimed was intimidation by the CPP, and threatened to secede the province.

Tensions peaked Nov 20 when an incident between CPP and Funcinpec troops resulted

in the wounding of a CPP soldier shot in the leg.

After the shooting Kosal wrote to both Prime Ministers asking them to stop Ung Samy

and CPP military forces from intimidating Funcinpec, alleging they were confiscating

Funcinpec weapons.

"During a meeting at the CPP headquarters on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, Ung Samy gathered

all the district leaders and military sub-divison commanders as well as CPP police

and told them to start to prepare for war against Funcinpec," claimed Kosal.

He said he has drawn "a line in the sand".

"We will not tolerate the old methods of the CPP. If we need to, we will start

a rebellion against the CPP."

Some analysts see the Battambang stand-off as a test of the will of Funcinpec and

CPP to assert themselves over the other in a province which is considered to have

a relatively even balance of power.

During repatriation between 1992 and 1993, about a third of refugees from the Thai

border camps - around 110,000 people - were resettled in Battambang province.

"A lot of our forces, our police, were integrated in Battambang," said

Son Soubert, a BLDP MP for Battambang.

According to a western military observer, there is roughly a 50/50 balance of forces

in the 5th Military Region which centers on Battambang, though Funcinpec and the

KPLNF - former resistance comrades in arms - may be a little stronger than their

CPP rivals.

In the run-up to the 1993 election, Battambang - along with Kompong Cham - experienced

the highest level of politically related violence.

"At that time pressure from the authorities was so high that the pagodas, except

for one, were afraid to burn the bodies of our partisans," Son Soubert said.

At that time Ung Samy was provincial governor. He was mentioned in a UN human rights

report as being involved in extra-judicial killings and was implicated in the activities

of S-21, a group which ran secret jails and was involved in tortures and killings.

UNTAC authorities asked, unsuccessfully, that Samy be sacked.

Despite the repression in Battambang, Funcinpec won four seats and the BLDP one.

The CPP won three National Assembly seats.

Serei Kosal was deputy-president of the Funcinpec electoral commission and elected

to parliament. He resigned from that position when he was appointed first deputy

governor of Battambang in December 1993.

But the election, as in most other provinces, did not really change the distribution

of power.

"We wanted cooperation [and], at first cooperation was very high between the

two parties," said Soubert. "But the [original] power structure is still

there - all the structures are in the hands of the CPP."

The leaders of Battambang's seven districts are members of the CPP, as is the military

police chief and the commander of the Fifth Military Region.

The only position that Funcinpec has - that of provincial police chief - is held

by Vorn Chun Ly. He works with Ung Samy, and deputy police commissioners Mok Dara

and Chhay Song - all members of the CPP.

"He [Vorn Chhun Ly] gets the title. He gets the uniform but he does not get

the work," said a long time Battambang observer .

Even inside the provincial government office, the contrast between the governor and

his first deputy is striking. Whereas Ung Samy gets a well appointed office with

lots of files on his desk, Serei Kosal seems to be at a loose end in a huge, empty

office where he only has newspapers to read.

"Nobody won and nobody lost the elections... [but] if someone does not like

to work together, they have... to resign or have elections or ask for the Constitution

to be ammended. If someone does otherwise, there will be problems...,"said Ung

Samy when asked of his working relations with Kosal.

Battambang has been the location of the main government offensives against the Khmer

Rouge stronghold of Pailin since 1993. Until last year's dry season offensive, the

two governors could speak with one voice against the common enemy.

"After a while, it got better. They gave him [Kosal] a little piece of the pie

but it was always up and down," said one observer. "But under the surface,

they always hated each other."

But today things have changed. From Pailin to the north of Banteay Meanchey, former

KR recently "integrated" with government forces seem to be allied to their

former comrades in Funcinpec and the KPLNF.

"When Lay Vireak, division 12 commander in Banteay Meanchey met with [recently

integrated KR], you realize they are people that meet several times a week",

said the Western military attaché. "You realize they are going along

together, rather than with the CPP."

Kosal did not hesitate when asked if the former KR were on his side: "They are

ready. They support our nationalist ideas and they understand the mediocre ideas

of the CPP."

According a member of district administration in Sangke, the CPP has already started

to recruit militia, and is actively preparing for local elections due to be held

next year.

The military attaché said: "CPP... are very active because they already

have all the power so they do not have anything to gain [by participating] in the

next elections."

"I think that any single incident that happens could, from now on, be used as

[part of] a political game," said Joelle Jenny, representative of the International

Committee of the Red Cross in Battambang.

"It is a power game. Elections are coming next year and what's happened at political

level will have consequences on the military situation."

"We cannot [say] that it will not get worse."



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