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Former Minister jumps over to new Rainsy party

Former Minister jumps over to new Rainsy party

F or Kong Koam, the transformation is stark. A Foreign Minister of communist Cambodia

in the 1980s - which fought the resistence, whether it be Funcinpec or the Khmer

Rouge - he has emerged as the highest-ranking former CPP member to join Sam Rainsy.

From a man who served a decade with Vietnamese-installed communist rule, he has become

one who speaks of the need for greater multi-party democracy, nationalism and peace

with the Khmer Rouge.

As he puts it, it was a natural progression. He maintains he was only ever a reluctant

servant to his former masters, always looking for an alternative political force.

He is, today, strongly anti-Vietnamese. He puts that down to what he considers unfair

treatment of him, and Cambodia, by Vietnam in the past. As he says, he would rather

be accused of being close to the Khmer Rouge than to Vietnam.

Koam, 54, was named a vice-president of the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) at its Nov 9

launch, one of the only two former CPP member among the Rainsy party's top leadership.

"To uphold democracy, I decided to join the Khmer Nation Party," he said

last week.

Unlike others such as Pen Sovann, Kong Koam's rise and fall from the Cambodian People's

Party was far less spectatular or high-profile.

A former secondary school teacher in Kompong Cham, Koam joined the diplomatic service

of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) after the Vietnamese's ousting of the

Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

He says he saw "no other way" to survive but to work for the regime and,

once he did so, no way to leave without endangering himself and his family.

In those days, there was a revolutionary song. "It's meaning," he recalls,

"was that if you left the PRK to join other resistence groups like Son Sann's,

you were joining Pol Pot as well." Those who joined Pol Pot were "cracked

down on" by the government.

While Koam maintains that he worked "with my body but not my heart or mind",

he was firmly entrenched with those in power and quickly rose through the ranks.

From being a department chief in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he became Ambassador

to Vietnam - a country he now expresses near hatred for - in 1981. He was later made

vice Foreign Minister and after becoming a member of the CPP's Central Committee

in 1985, Foreign Minister a year later.

At that time, he says, there were virtually two governments - one was led by Vietnamese

advisers, another by Cambodian revolutionaries. The Vietnamse ambassador in Phnom

Penh had much the same power as a Cambodian minister, and decisions were not to be

made without consultation.

Koam says he resisted going to see the Vietnamese ambassador at the embassy because

of "national sovereignty and honor."

He maintains his fall from grace began in 1987 when Prime Minister Hun Sen went to

see then Prince Norodom Sihanouk in Paris to discuss a possible Cambodian peace settlement.

Koam held a press conference in Phnom Penh, at which he says his Vietnamese advisers

told him to read out the names of senior Khmer Rouge leaders to be excluded from

any settlement. He refused, he says, because without the Khmer Rouge in the settlement,

there would be no lasting peace.

A few months later, on an African trip via Moscow, he met with Soviet Foreign Minister

Andrei Gromyko without Vietnamese approval.

Koam maintains that the Vietnames engineered his removal as Foreign Minister in late

1987, successively side-lining him into several other "nominal" ministerial

jobs.

While at least one source close to Koam suggests he puts a more favorable light on

his political past than was the reality, Koam maintains he was a CPP dissident for

many years.

He said from 1989 he spoke out against the State of Cambodia's continuing of the

war against the Khmer Rouge, and in 1992 resigned from the ruling CPP. He maintained

an official position until UNTAC.

He turned down a request to join Funcinpec - from close friend Ung Phan, who had

been jailed in the late 1980s for trying to start a political party - because I was

not certain about anything at that time."

"Now, I clearly see that the winning parties are embarked on a trend to absolutely

monopolize leadership and decision making. So, I think that in order to uphold real

democracy and multi-party system I must join Sam Rainsy."

Reminded about the song about people who left the PRK - and Hun Sen's recent comments

labeling government critics as allies of Pol Pot - Koam says that "Funcinpec

and Prince Ranariddh were also described [by Hun Sen] as KR during the election."

"It is better for me to be called an intimate of the Khmer Rouge than of yuon

[Vietnamese]."

A firm believer that it is "better to let the enemy live than let Khmer die,"

he supports a political settlement with the Khmer Rouge.

Recognizing that he is getting into tricky waters by joining Rainsy, he says he has

written to both PMs urging them not to consider the new party an attempt to overthrow

them.

"We can still debate, argue but in a way in which we can look each other in

the face, but not confront each other," he said.

And his view on the CPP today? Koam is reluctant to comment, but remarks: "There

seems to be two groups - one says that the other is willing to lower the image of

CPP and commit improprieties like corruption and violence."

Can they be reconciled or not? "I have not thought about it, nor would I speculate

about that," he says.

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