T HE Cambodian People's Party (CPP) hierarchy has endorsed Hun Sen's July 5-6 military
strike as "legal and correct", but urged that negotiations - not just more
fighting - be held with deposed Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his followers, according
to party sources.
At an Oct 25-27 CPP congress, members of the party's powerful standing committee
are said to have warned against continuing big offensives against Funcinpec resistance
forces in the north and northwest.
"Everyone agreed that the military solution is getting nowhere," said one
party official. "And if we go for large military operations, we will strain
the national resources, and the [economic] effect of the international community's
pressure on us will be so much greater."
Implying that talks with Ranariddh would help appease foreign donors, the official
added that the government had little to lose: "Why not negotiate? It doesn't
mean we have to agree, we have to come to a conclusion... but it shows that both
sides are prepared to meet, to talk."
While the CPP concerns add to international pressures on Hun Sen to negotiate with
his nemesis Ranariddh, they appear unlikely to have any immediate effect. No plan
to initiate negotiations was made - the matter was left in Hun Sen's hands - and
there was no suggestion of suspending army offensives against the resistance fronts
of O'Smach and Samlot.
"I think that for the negotiations to come, he will intend to show strength
first," the CPP official said of the likelihood that Hun Sen would continue
the military campaigns. "Negotiation doesn't mean no fighting; negotiation means
"But the fact that the party agreed that the military operation is getting nowhere
is the start of the negotiation process."
Hun Sen, speaking to reporters at the end of the three-day CPP congress, acknowledged
differences of opinion within the party over whether to attack the Funcinpec resistance
and the Khmer Rouge hardliners based in Anlong Veng.
Such debate showed "democracy within the CPP", Hun Sen said, adding that
he was prepared to try to seek a peaceful solution with anti-government forces.
The closed-door plenum meeting of the CPP's 153-member central committee discussed
issues including the July fighting, the Khmer Rouge and Funcinpec guerrilla resistance
and the next elections. The real debate - such as on the military situation - was
largely kept within simultaneous meetings of the party's 20-member standing committee,
or politburo, according to sources.
The event had been closely anticipated by observers looking for signs of a widening
split between Hun Sen, the Second Prime Minister and CPP vice-president, and party
president Chea Sim.
But the plenum produced customary declarations of unity from party figures, and a
suspected bid by Hun Sen to add several of his loyalists to the standing committee
did not eventuate.
Hun Sen did suggest that new appointments to the standing committee be put on the
plenum agenda, but withdrew the proposal in the face of opposition from Chea Sim,
according to party sources.
In the end, Hun Sen achieved what observers had predicted was one of his key objectives
- the CPP's public endorsement of his July putsch against Funcinpec, despite earlier
grumblings from some party quarters over the international and economic consequences
of the coup.
"The event of 5-6 July, 1997 was provoked by the extremists led by Norodom Ranariddh
and his cronies, while the government operation was the most legal and correct one,"
said a party statement issued at the end of the plenum, read by honorary president
Heng Samrin, who is widely considered to be a Chea Sim supporter.
Accusing Ranariddh and his associates of attempting to join in a "genocidal
alliance" with the outlawed Khmer Rouge, the statement hailed "the government's"
military action as necessary to suppress illegal acts, strengthen the rule of law,
protect the Constitution and consolidate Cambodia's democracy.
The statement was personally reiterated by Chea Sim, who said: "The CPP has
fully supported the measures taken...on July 5-6 to strengthen security and social
Hun Sen, speaking after the plenum, said the party was united despite two decades
of attempts by "enemies" to divide it. "We are firmer, and we are
firm on the basis of freedom of opinion within our party."
Asked whether party delegates discussed the economy and Cambodians' standard of living
since July, Hun Sen replied that "the drop in living conditions in Cambodia
is not because of Cambodia's isolation" but was due to the region's economic
While the plenum appeared to give Hun Sen a critical public seal of approval for
his July power grab, some sources maintained that the party did move to reign in
Hun Sen, and that he did make concessions.
Most significantly, the plenum agreed that the CPP should return to what official
described as "the classical way of managing the party". The move was interpreted,
by some at least, as a sign to Hun Sen that key decisions should be made collectively
by the standing committee, not him alone.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen is said to have approved changes to the draft national election
law currently before the National Assembly.
The draft law was prepared by the Ministry of Interior under the authority of co-Minister
Sar Kheng, a Chea Sim ally. It was substantially changed by the Council of Ministers
before being sent to the assembly, attracting criticism from foreign donors and democracy
At the plenum, Hun Sen reportedly agreed to withdraw some of the amendments to the
draft, including one which would have given the Council of Ministers the power to
veto Ministry of Interior-nominated members of the National Election Commission.
But he did not agree to give the National Assembly the right to vote on the commission's
membership, as originally proposed.
Much of the debate at the plenum appears to be have centered on the elections, which
the CPP said would go ahead as scheduled on May 23, 1998.
The party statement read by Heng Samrin appealed for the return of self-exiled politicians
and officials to resume political activities "in conformity with [the] law",
but made no mention of Ranariddh.
The statement said that "the CPP undeviatingly sticks to its position that...the
elections must be organized by Cambodia herself", but welcomed international
observers and funding for the ballot.
Pledging the elections would be "free, fair and just", the statement added:
"The CPP would like to solemnly declare that it will respect the results".
Khieu Kanharith, the Secretary of State for Information and a CPP central committee
member, said after the congress that the party intended to capture 73 out of 120
National Assembly seats in the elections.
He reiterated the plenum statement's assurance that, if CPP won the elections, it
would form a coalition government with many other parties.
Hun Sen, meanwhile, said there had been no need for debate at the congress over whether
he will be the CPP's prime ministerial candidate, which has not been officially announced
by the party.
In an implicit summation of the apparent status quo within the CPP, Hun Sen said
that as long as he was around, there would be no debate about prime ministerial candidates,
and as long as Chea Sim was around, there would be no discussion about the presidency
of the party.