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Cracks in political impasse hard to find

Cracks in political impasse hard to find

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Hun Sen (left), Chea Sim (middle), and Ranariddh (right)

KING Norodom Sihanouk, who arrived in Phnom Penh Oct 5

to help break Cambodia's political deadlock, is finding his role even if largely

that of a figurehead is being stymied by the three parties that seem to generally

hate each other.

After three aborted meetings between the CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)

officials who, one source said, "couldn't agree about the shape of the table

to sit around" CPP's Sar Kheng left saying he was washing his hands of such

gatherings.

Kheng's comments, say analysts, were directed more toward his boss, Hun Sen. One

party source said that the CPP was still united and ready to give Hun Sen, leading

from the front, its full support. But, he added, there existed the feeling within

some CPP quarters toward Hun Sen that "if you win, we will win with you. If

you lose, we will win alone". Kheng, it was suggested, was not prepared to wear

any blame as leading a futile process.

Another leadership summit has now been suggested as the time draws near to the "moment

of truth", as one diplomat described it.

But immediately there was disagreement on whether that summit should be in Beijing,

Tokyo, Bangkok or Paris or pretty well any city in the world bar Phnom Penh, where

the opposition say they feel threatened. The CPP aren't prepared to fly anywhere

to meet anyone.

However, there may be signs of slight cracks appearing in the attitudes of each of

the belligerents.

The marriage of convenience between Prince Ranariddh and Rainsy is still strong according

to opposition sources, but the CPP think it's shaky.

"Funcinpec, for the time being, is with Rainsy but only to position itself...

into a better bargaining position. In turn, it'll accept Hun Sen as PM," one

CPP insider said. "Rainsy left Bangkok with a clear understanding that Funcinpec

wants to share power. [But] Rainsy's sole issue is to have Hun Sen rejected as prime

minister."

However, one opposition member said that "even if [Rainsy and Ranariddh] don't

like each other, they have to stay together... they cannot survive without each other."

The opposition has quit Cambodia almost en masse. After Hun Sen relaxed a travel

ban on opposition MPs imposed to force them to attend the Sept 24 National Assembly

opening they barely had time to draw breath before heading out to Bangkok.

More than 23 Funcinpec MPs are gone, and all 15 of Rainsy's, plus most if not all

the steering committee members. The exodus, although claimed as self-preservation,

is as much to put more pressure on Hun Sen.

It's unlikely the CPP could even count on a parliamentary quorum as of today. That

has put Hun Sen in a foul mood.

Hun Sen rounded on Funcinpec MP Ieng Kieth the oldest man in parliament, therefore

the one who would preside over its first session at a Council of Ministers' meeting

Oct 2, saying: "Old man. Why don't you convene parliament, or resign and let

[the second eldest MP, the CPP's] Chem Sgnuon do it? Why don't you take a pill and

die?"

Kieth said that as a Buddhist, he wasn't allowed to suicide. Besides, he said, he'd

already agreed with CPP president Chea Sim with whom he'd been in daily contact that

the Assembly couldn't be properly convened.

But, following a closed-door meeting with the King in Siem Reap the next day, Kieth

sent out invitations for an Oct 7 Assembly convening only for his Bangkok colleagues

to pressure him to stop. Many seem to have scant faith in Kieth. "He is an opportunist,"

said one party member. "We no longer support him," said another.

Funcinpec are suspicious that some of their members may be bought or threatened to

capitulate to the CPP, but the fact that parliament has not convened means that Hun

Sen cannot be sure of his numbers.

"There are a few question marks," one Funcinpec MP said of loyalties within

his own party, "but only a few."

"Who's paying Funcinpec anyway?" one CPP official asked the Post rhetorically,

"the Khmer Rouge?" Other sources believe thatFuncinpec's Minister of Interior

You Hockry has sufficient money to keep his Prince and presumably his followers comfortable

in Bangkok.

But even the "cash-cow that used to feed the CPP is now skinny," said the

CPP source. "The only thing [that may be left] is the gun."

The CPP's bottom line is to have the premiership and parliamentary presidency, and

a 7-5 split, in its favor, of the 12 official Assembly positions. There may exist

a compromise with Funcinpec, whose own bottom line, it has been whispered, could

be the acceptance of deputy parliamentary presidents for both itself and Rainsy's

party.

Yet the CPP is insistent on two of the top three Assembly spots, according to the

opposition. "It must be important to them because they're not budging,"

said one opposition official. Publicly, Funcinpec is standing firm for the presidency,

and on the issue of the disputed formula used to apportion seats won.

The King's role in finding a solution is secondary to that of Hun Sen's, sources

say. In fact, almost everyone's role is secondary to Hun Sen's. It would be a powerful

move for his party to capture enough top Assembly positions to control the Council

of the Throne, the body that will determine the next King.

To ensure this, Hun Sen may yet be prepared to concede sweeteners such as amnesties

and some ministerial jobs. "[The CPP] have no choice," said a Royalist

MP. "They have to lure us." "The [jobs of] ministers and [State] secretaries

are easy," said another, "that would only take an afternoon."

He may well be right if there was any substantive negotiation being done. But that

isn't the case.

Funcinpec say there is good reason for this. "I am afraid if Rana-riddh and

Rainsy come back to have a meeting, they will not be able to leave," said one

MP. "And if all the MPs come back, they [may] close the border, and have troops

at the National Assembly."

"If Hun Sen loses, it's precisely because he is not a dictator," one diplomat

said. "The best solution is for Hun Sen, Ranariddh and Rainsy all to step aside,"

said one Khmer analyst, because it was plain they could not work together ever. But,

he added, that was wishfulthinking.

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