Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Co-PMs still at odds as war of words cools

Co-PMs still at odds as war of words cools

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Co-PMs still at odds as war of words cools

DIPLOMATIC and internal pressure has brokered fresh "no violence-no squabbling"

agreements by Funcinpec and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), but Hun Sen has yet

to meet Prince Norodom Ranariddh face to face.

Amid a flurry of meetings, letters and speeches by government leaders, King Norodom

Sihanouk - and the Khmer Rouge - pressure is mounting for the co-Prime Ministers

to step away from confrontation.

CPP elements appear to be trying to defuse the tension, but Hun Sen has privately

said that he is the party's only spokesman and negotiator.

Hun Sen - who has privately said he will deal directly with the King - has yet to

respond to a letter from Ranariddh, addressed to Hun Sen and CPP president Chea Sim,

requesting meetings at the "highest level."

But Ranariddh met Chea Sim last week. Sources said the First Prime Minister agreed

to avoid military confrontation, settle differences through negotiation, and gave

assurances that Funcinpec would not collaborate with the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen, during a recent meeting with Malaysia's Foreign Minister, is also said to

have pledged not to use force, tone down the war of words with Funcinpec and maintain

the coalition.

Foreign Minister Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was hurriedly dispatched to Cambodia

earlier this month, informally representing the Association of South East Asian Nations

(ASEAN), to warn the PMs to keep the government in one piece.

He was sent by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, after a meeting of ASEAN

permanent secretaries in Jakarta concluded the Cambodian situation was grave.

He met separately with Hun Sen and Ranariddh, both of whom have supported Cambodia's

bid to join ASEAN. While Badawi did not threaten that future membership, he relayed

the message that "Cambodia was on its own" if the PMs resorted to violence,

according to one informed source.

The King, whose return to Phnom Penh from China became an on-again, off-again affair,

described the Cambodian situation as "extremely bad" in a letter to his

son, Ranariddh.

As the King remained in Beijing, speculation mounted that he was planning to intervene

by seeking round-table political talks, or by taking more drastic action such as

abdicating.

The King has repeatedly declared that he has no political designs. In a statement

last week he said: "I definitely will not interfere in the affairs of the Royal

Government...[or] both Prime Ministers."

In a move certain to have angered Hun Sen, the King exchanged letters with the outlawed

Khmer Rouge, who urged him not to take any action and not to return to Cambodia.

Initially, the King declined a request by Ranariddh to come back to Phnom Penh but

on May 22 - after the assassination of journalist Thun Bun Ly and subsequent clashes

between police and mourners - agreed to do so.

That was delayed when, two days later - as Chea Sim went to Beijing to see the King

after meeting with Ranariddh - the King suffered a stroke caused by a cerebral hemorrhage,

according to a doctor's report.

His Majesty's condition improved after treatment, the Queen and doctors said. At

the Post's press time, he was expected to stay in Beijing for treatment and rest

for several weeks.

Hun Sen, in an apparent gesture of reconciliation, sent his best wishes to the King.

Hun Sen later publicly urged the Khmer press - which includes pro-CPP newspapers

who have published strong attacks against the King in recent months - not to criticize

His Majesty.

Meanwhile, Chea Sim, as well as the CPP Minister in charge of the Royal Palace, Kong

Som Ol, met with the King. Ranariddh also later flew to see him.

Earlier, Chea Sim - in a speech four days before he met Ranariddh in Phnom Penh -

publicly called for an end to the war of words between Funcinpec and CPP.

He said the hostility had led to clashes between the parties, and "by confronting

each other militarily, it may be difficult to find a place to end it."

Sim strongly urged negotiations be held, at a "high" or "middle"

level, to soothe tensions.

"The situation has become gloomy and tense - only a meeting can solve the problem.

The sooner a meeting is held, the better," Sim said.

The CPP Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, in a May 26 speech, warned that if the distrust

between Funcinpec and CPP "continues to intensify toward the use of military

forces", Cambodia would be taken back to where it was before the 1993 United

Nations elections.

Directing his comments to the Funcinpec deputy governor of Battambang, Serey Kosal,

who was present, Kheng spoke of "troops and police" which had been readied

"here and there."

"I ask what were they going to do?...Let's talk clearly about this. There is

nothing but bloodshed at the end."

Rather than destroying the coalition government, "why don't we invite each other

to strengthen it?" he asked.

Urging Chea Sim, Hun Sen and Ranariddh to settle the problems, Kheng said: "The

two main parties cannot be broken up. A break-up means death."

CPP officials close to Chea Sim and Sar Kheng made it plain the pair were attempting

to soothe both Funcinpec and Hun Sen.

"They don't want people to think that CPP is thinking, or is planning, or would

do, what Hun Sen has said," said one official of Hun Sen's earlier thinly-veiled

threats to use force against Funcinpec.

But diplomats and political observers say there will be no reconciliation without

Hun Sen. They said he remained personally bitter at Ranariddh and Funcinpec, considering

they had betrayed him, and wanted a public apology or other concessions from them.

One diplomat said a ministerial reshuffle was being sought by CPP to change some

Funcinpec ministers. "The damage has been done. Only a Cabinet reshuffle can

appease CPP."

Other sources suggested Hun Sen would seek a military reshuffle as well, to reduce

the influence of Funcinpec commanders he considers a threat.

Hun Sen has publicly accused five unnamed Funcinpec members - all police or military

personnel - of plotting against him, and has also blamed Funcinpec for the Royal

army's failure to capture Pailin from the Khmer Rouge.

Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay said he was aware of widespread speculation that

his job was on the line.

"I hear that they want to put me out of my rank, that they want to catch me...it's

not true."

He said "rumors" of trouble within the military and the government were

fading.

On Hun Sen's complaints over Pailin, Bun Chhay said: "There is not a Funcinpec

or a CPP army. There is only one army."

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