INTERNAL bickering has struck Sam Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party (KNP), with four senior
members quitting and another apparently set to follow.
Within a day of his Jan 15 return to Cambodia after a six-week trip abroad, Rainsy
found himself embroiled in feuds within the party leadership. Steering committee
member Phan Sina resigned, saying he would only stay on if five others - including
Secretary-General Khieu Rada - were sacked. Sina criticized party people he described
as "extremists", including former opposition newspaper editors Chan Ratana
and Hor Sopheap, and accused some of being disrespectful to the King.
Within days, three other steering committee members had also quit. Nou Beng and Doung
Sarom cited frustration with KNP, while Nop Ann gave the reason of poor health.
Meanwhile, KNP vice-president Nguon Soeur - the former deputy national police chief
and highest-ranking former Funcinpec member to defect to the Rainsy party - also
sought Rada's dismissal.
Soeur, who is known to have wanted to be Secretary-General of KNP, would not comment
to the Post but said he would hold a press conference soon.
Rainsy moved to try to limit the public damage, describing the resignations as "petty
quarrel" and not a concerted challenge to the KNP leadership. He blamed personality
clashes between certain steering committee members, and said that those who had left
had done so on good terms with him personally.
But at the same time, Rainsy suggested it would be "normal" for the government
to try to infiltrate people into the party to divide it, but stopped short of levelling
the allegation against any person.
"Some people may have had some plans to create trouble from within," Rainsy
"But they realized very quickly after only two or three months after the formation
of the party that they cannot implement their plan [and] that they are wasting their
Khieu Rada accused Phan Sina of fabricating a story that he (Rada) was against the
monarchy and the King.
Rada, who has written to the King professing his support, also suggested that outside
forces were trying to split KNP.
"I have a feeling that he [Sina] serves somebody to disintegrate KNP,"
Sina, in his resignation letter, spoke of extremists within KNP and "opportunists"
who were stopping government recognition being given to it.
Meanwhile, Rainsy departed for Australia this week, after 10 days in Cambodia during
which his personal security seemed tighter than normal.
Bodyguards bustled Rainsy out of Pochentong Airport upon his Jan 15 arrival, after
the pro-Cambodian People's Party newspaper Koh Santepheap had reported that he would
be the subject of protests by students.
At a press conference within an hour of his arrival, Rainsy spoke of continuing concern
for his life - and publicly identified the people he said would be responsible if
he was murdered. "If I am killed, I can tell you now that it is Hun Sen who
ordered my killing, with the backing and complicity of Prince Ranariddh and with
Theng Boonma providing the financing of the assissination," Rainsy said of the
co-Prime Ministers and the head of the Thai Boon Rong company. Rainsy provided no
direct evidence of a plot to kill him, but said "they are the only ones who
can gain from my death."
Rainsy urged the government to recognize KNP as a legal political party, and confirmed
that he was prepared to merge the party with others if required.
He said discussions had been held with six other parties - registered in the 1993
election - run by expatriate Khmers who had since returned to France or the United
States. KNP, to ensure the government had no reason to claim it was illegal, could
join with one or more of those parties, he said.
In the meantime, Rainsy has written to the co-Ministers of Interior seeking discussions
over KNP's legality and, in response to statements by the King, has agreed to alter
the party's logo and launching date.