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Bodyguard units clash in mid-city battle

Bodyguard units clash in mid-city battle

For 90 minutes rockets exploded, AK47s popped, tracers creased the night sky, and

cowering listeners worried that political tension had finally reached the breaking

point. The loud and fiery confrontation between bodyguards of the First Prime Minister

and the Chief of National Police was the first furious armed clash between partisans

of the two major parties on the streets of Phnom Penh.

It left roadblocks bristling around town, and both sides blaming the other and claiming

credit that it did not get out of hand. It also left them agreeing - along, almost

certainly, with most of the rest of the capital's population - that one good thing

could be said for it: in its aftermath, there was no repeat performance.

Two Funcinpec bodyguards were killed and three persons - a bodyguard, a passerby

and a reporter - were injured in the June 17 confrontation on Norodom Boulevard.

But observers, attributing the outbreak to tension over negotiations with the Khmer

Rouge, underlined that the fight did not get out of hand.

The confrontation opposed bodyguards of First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh with

bodyguards of National Police Chief Hok Lundy, a senior CPP member. It started around

10:30 at the corner of Norodom and St 200. At least 14 rocket explosions were heard,

and one rocket burst in the garden of the American am-bassador's residence.

One of the Funcinpec bodyguards killed was guarding the residence of Serey Kosal,

Ranariddh's security adviser, and the other was a guard of the First Prime Minister.

Within two hours after the fighting, three injured went to Calmette hospital for

treatment of minor wounds. One was a passerby caught in the gunfire, another was

a Ranariddh bodyguard and the third was Agence France Presse correspondent Matthew

Lee, who caught shrapnel in one arm while driving towards the shooting.

Who started it remained unclear.

Neighborhood residents said they had seen signs of approaching trouble for several

days. "The night before, the guards of Hok Lundy were expanding their positions

and the people of Ranariddh did not like that," said one.

Witnesses told a western police observer that the two groups of bodyguards disagreed

about the perimeters around Hok Lundy's house that his guards would protect.

Within minutes of the outbreak of fighting, army personnel carriers were driven out

of their base inside the CPP compound to take up positions along the compound perimeter,

where they stayed for three days.

On the next morning, the two parties accused each other of being responsible for

the fighting and said it could have degenerated into a major conflict.

Hok Lundy said that Secretary of State for the Interior Ho Sok sent 30 men on June

16 "to assassinate me".

Lundy said he decided to arrest Ho Sok's men and that started the confrontation.

"The acts were carried out to weaken Hun Sen, Sar Kheng and me. It was done

intentionally," Lundy said. "My forces were not harmed as they had all

prepared themselves."

Lundy said that it could have degenerated into larger problems crossing the country.

During a press conference at Ranariddh's headquarters, Serey Kosal accused Hok Lundy's

forces of planning to assassinate the First Prime Minister and himself.

Kosal said that the CPP attacked because they believed Funcinpec was hosting Khmer

Rouge.

"CPP leaders accused Ranariddh of bringing back [the] genocide regime in the

country. I would like to assure that this accusation has been made up by CPP,"

Kosal said.

He claimed that Funcinpec forces did not fight back, under Ranariddh's order.

"If we had shot back, there would have been civil war this morning," he

said.

Despite the intense gunfire, military observers were quite surprised by the small

number of casualties.

"Most of it was shooting in the air," said a military observer who witnessed

the fighting. "They used a lot of rockets but the damage is not so important.

I think it is much ado about nothing.

"It was quite controlled because it did not get out of hand into something bigger.

Troops in the CPP compound could have reacted. They did not move."

The military observer said CPP had been tense in the past few days over the negotiations

being handled by Funcinpec with the hardliner Khmer rouge of Anlong Veng. He said

that after the fighting they seemed calmer and relaxed, as if the fighting had been

a release.

Smaller incidents were reported elsewhere. Funcinpec charged that two deputy provincial

governors were harassed in separate events on the same night.

During a press conference at the party's headquarters on June 21, the first deputy

governor of Kampong Cham province, Kang Sean, said about 40 soldiers with armored

vehicles from military Region 2 surrounded his house.

Sean said he was forced to order his troops to lay down their weapons.

At the same press conference, the first deputy governor for Kratie province, Ven

Sokhoy, also complained of being surrounded by CPP-directed troops.

"They suspected I was keeping Khmer Rouge in my house. They accused me of collaborating

with the Khmer Rouge," he said adding that he went to Phnom Penh on the next

day.

He said that he used to criticize Serey Kosal's reaction toward CPP "as violence

which will cause war."

"But now that this problem is happening to me I will act as Serey Kosal. I will

go back in the province in the nearest future and I will act on behalf of the governor

not on behalf of deputy governor any more," he said.

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