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Accusations fly over arms deals

Accusations fly over arms deals

T HE verbal barrage between the coalition partners over a recent seizure of weapons

earmarked for Funcinpec bodyguards has continued, with both sides questioning the

legality of the other's arms procurement practices.

The controversy started when Sihanoukville customs official's discovered a container

load of munitions addressed to First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh (Funcinpec)

labeled as "spare parts" on May 25.

CPP officials charged that Funcinpec had deliberately mislabeled the cargo's contents

in an attempt to smuggle arms and ammunition into the country, a move they claimed

was aimed at fomenting civil unrest.

"To buy and import the weapons that were seized cannot be considered a legal

action...because it was done secretly and documents were falsified. It was aimed

to cause internal war that would destroy the country," a CPP statement released

May 31 said.

" If [Ranariddh]...had imported the weapons in goodwill as co-commander in

chief, he would not have hidden if from the [CPP] co-Minister of Defense, he would

not have spent his own or party money, [but] would have used the government budget

and would not have named the weapons as 'spare parts', " the CPP statement said.

The communiqué was released by Hun Sen's cabinet following a May 30 statement

in which Funcinpec argued that the First Prime Minister has the authority to import

weapons.

The Funcinpec statement also alleged that a separate consignment of weapons has

been delivered to Hun Sen's bodyguard unit without informing the Funcinpec co-minister

of Defense.

"Chao Phirun, the director of the technical department of the Ministry of

Defense, without the permission from the leadership of the ministry, has given 19

anti-tank missiles to the Second Prime Minister," it said.

In the May 31 statement, CPP dismissed the charge brought against the CPP Defense

official as "a defaming report". Instead, CPP called for further investigation

into the case of the Sihanoukville shipment, and threatened to take Ranariddh to

the military court.

"The cabinet of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen would like to propose to the

Marshall [military] Prosecutor to investigate immediately and thoroughly the case

of the secret purchase and import of weapons and send the complaint to the Marshal

Court," CPP said.

Funcinpec counter-attacked late last week by repeating its allegation over the

19 anti-tank missiles, as well as charging that CPP customarily takes weapons and

ammunitions from Ministry of Defense depots.

"Since the Sirivudh affair, CPP has taken thousands of rounds of ammunitions,

rifles, artillery shells and anti-tank rockets from Ministry of Defense warehouses

without informing the co-Ministers of Defense." said Tum Sambol, military advisor

to Ranariddh, in reference to the failed attempt by Prince Norodom Sirivudh to return

from exile in mid-May.

"Chao Phirun checked materiel out of the defense warehouses to send to the

second Prime Minister's bodyguard unit and to the governor of Kandal province Kun

Kim," said Tum Sambol.

While few observers believe that the war of words will spill onto the streets,

some military observers and diplomats maintain the controversy highlighted what they

say is a "worrying trend"- a shift of arms and resources a way from regular

forces increasingly into the hands of party-loyal militia and bodyguard units.

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