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Exiled MPs test waters

Exiled MPs test waters

T HREE self-exiled parliamentarians arrived in Phnom Penh in the past week, the first

to return since many opposition members fled Cambodia after the July coup.

Son Chhay spent five days here trying to negotiate a deal between exiles and the

government, while Om Radsady and Tao Seng Huor returned quietly to resume their seats

at the National Assembly.

"I hope to play a leading role to bring both sides together for informal discussions,"

Son Chhay, a member of the Son Sann faction of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party

(BLDP), told the Post. "I've learned of Hun Sen's willingness to have informal

talks."

Chhay met with Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly president Chea

Sim, and traveled to Siem Reap to visit King Norodom Sihanouk, during his Oct 17-21

visit.

Of his meeting with the Second Prime Minister, Son Chhay said: "I was quite

surprised, he was not the Hun Sen I was thinking of. I was scared to meet him, but

he was nice, gentlemanly, very friendly, willing to listen to me."

He said Hun Sen had acquiesced on two important requests: that exiled government

officials can return to their posts as long as they are vacant, and that the MPs

will not lose their seats because of their long absence.

"I said that they were afraid of execution, including myself, so he cannot use

the regular [expulsion] procedures of the National Assembly, it's not fair. He agreed."

At a later press conference on Oct 21, the MP was positive about the prospect of

informal negotiations between the exiles and Hun Sen. Chhay reported that the King

was "in tears" at the state of his country but "excited" about

the possibility of talks, suggesting they be held in Siem Reap while he is still

there. King Sihanouk's previous offers to mediate in the political crisis have been

rebuffed by Hun Sen.

Chhay said that the Second Prime Minister had welcomed the idea of informal talks

with the exiles, and had also referred to visiting the King in Siem Reap.

The MP announced upon his arrival that he would propose that Hun Sen step down in

favor of a caretaker government. However, he said after he met with the premier that

this was only a "second option," the primary one being to get talks started.

"I didn't need to ask him [about stepping down]," Chhay explained.

Although the MP's trip was an independent one, he said he would present his findings

to the exiles' coalition, the Union of Cambodian Democrats (UCD), on his return to

Bangkok.

He indicated that he was optimistic the government and exiles could agree on UCD's

conditions for a united return to Cambodia, including the neutralization of the army

and police and international guarantees for the safe return of all politicians.

However, he added: "For people to return here is safe, but to be active politically

is another question."

Asked if ousted First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whom Hun Sen insists

must face criminal charges, was included in the "safe return" condition,

Chhay was vague. "I ask for the safe return of all politicians, I cannot really

say much about the case of Prince Ranariddh." But he said that the King suggested

that a UCD negotiating team should not include his son, for fear of his arrest.

Chhay expressed personal disillusionment with Ranariddh and doubted the Prince's

political potency. "He's going around the world saying he's a democrat. He's

not a democrat. I thought he would change, but so far I see no change. I'm disappointed.

I see no hope of him entering successfully into politics again."

As for himself, Chhay was coy about whether he intended to come back permanently.

He said he met with fellow BLDP member Thach Reng, who encouraged him to return.

"I wished to come back without [the rest of the UCD], after I talked to Thach

Reng... But I don't want my return to harm [the UCD] cause."

Of Reng, Chhay said: "I encouraged him, and told him the party was very proud

of him. He very much wants me to join him. Sometimes he gets cold feet because he's

only the sole person to do all this work for the country. I told him I'd join him

sooner or later ... but sometimes we have to sacrifice ourselves, stand firm."

Meanwhile, two other MPs did choose to make unilateral returns to Cambodia. Funcinpec

member and chairman of the assembly's foreign relations commission Om Radsady arrived

without fanfare Oct 19, making an unannounced return to parliament the next day.

"I have decided to come back in order to resume my role as MP to serve the population

at least until my term is finished," he said.

Radsady, who is not a UCD member, said he had been in contact with neither the UCD

nor the Phnom Penh government. He left Cambodia for Luxembourg on an official mission

two days before the July fighting erupted, and had been in Europe for most of the

time since then, he said.

Funcinpec Minister of Agriculture, Tao Seng Huor also returned to Cambodia Oct 20

to take up his parliamentary seat, but was vague on whether he would remain as Minister.

Huor had earlier tendered his resignation from his ministerial position, but he said

upon his return that he would fill whatever position the government asked him to.

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