UNCINPEC has chosen March 21 - the anniversary of the creation of its former anti-Vietnamese
resistance front - to hold its long-awaited party congress.
The date has been picked instead of the February anniversary of when the resistance
front was officially transformed into a political party.
Funcinpec's new secretary-general Loy Sim Chheang said the party's steering committee
had considered both anniversaries as possible times to hold this year's congress.
March 21 marks the 1981 date when King Norodom Sihanouk formed the Funcinpec liberation
front which fought the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
After the 1991 Paris peace agreements were signed, the front was transformed into
a political party under the leadership of the King's son Prince Norodom Ranariddh
at its first party congress held February 27-29, 1992.
Loy Sim Chheang said the decision to center the congress around March 21, rather
than in February, was made for "the memory of the resistance."
He said the decision had been made in "October and November", before the
recent government move to reinstate the January 7 national holiday.
The sudden reintroduction of the holiday - marking the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of
Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge - has revived old memories and tensions about the
Chheang, newly appointed as Secretary-General to replace the exiled Prince Norodom
Sirivudh, was among senior Funcinpec members who indicated unhappiness at the holiday's
All of Funcinpec's 13-member steering committee, except for party president Ranariddh,
signed a letter to the King noting that Jan 7 marked the day that "foreign troops
Chheang told the Post that Funcinpec believed that past differences between the parties
in the current coalition government should be forgotten.
"Since the beginning, we have had just one idea - reconciliation of the nation
and of the parties. The past problems, we have to forget."
Noting that the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had proposed the holiday's reinstatement,
Chheang said: "Our main idea is national reconciliation, but now they remind
us of 7 January."
He suggested that the October 23 anniversary of the signing of the 1991 peace agreement
was a "better, neutral" holiday in the spirit of national reconciliation.
But he would not say that Funcinpec was unhappy with the Jan 7 holiday, which he
noted had been supported by the King.
Asked why Ranariddh signed the government decree reinstating the holiday, Chheang
said: "Because Funcinpec respects the wishes of the King."
Chheang disputed suggestions that Funcinpec was under increasing pressure, divided
by the loss of the Sam Rainsy and Norodom Sivivudh last year and perceived to be
losing power to CPP.
Dismissive of the threat from Sam Rainsy's new Khmer Nation Party, he believed Funcinpec
remained strong and united behind president Ranariddh.
This year's party congress will be the first since the inaugural February 1992 "Funcinpec
World Congress" held in Oddar Meanchey province in the "liberated zone"
of the resistance.
Chheang's predecessor, Prince Sirivudh, had been trying to organize a congress for
most of 1995 but it was repeatedly delayed. Sirivudh - who had planned a large, open
congress - was widely believed to want the opportunity for disgruntled Funcinpec
members to confront Ranariddh.
Chheang would not be drawn on what kind of congress would be held or whether it would
last more than one day.
Some 75 Funcinpec officials, MPs and government staff met in Sihanoukville last weekend
to prepare for the congress, in a two-day excursion which included a day-trip with
their families to Naga Island. A Jan 21 statement issued after the meeting appeared
to address some of the criticisms made of the party in recent months. It said that
since winning the 1993 general election, Funcinpec had "made major political
sacrifices for the sake of peace and national reconciliation."
The statement went on to re-affirm that Funcinpec was a "Royalist movement for
national reconstruction, development, the re-establishment of democracy and the state
of law and order."
It pledged Funcinpec's full support for the King's policies of national unity and
for the "vision and strategies" of president Ranariddh.
The meeting unanimously agreed to support the principles of respect for the Constitution
and for a "free, fair and democratic" general election, with the presence
of international observers, to be held in 1998.
The statement said Funcinpec would campaign "on the spirits of national reconciliation
and reconstruction" and reiterated the party's continuing cooperation with the
Chheang would not say whether he disagreed with Sirivudh's public opposition to any
"pre-arrangement" between Funcinpec and CPP not to campaign too strongly
against each other. The party's election strategy would be discussed at the congress,
The congress would also review Funcinpec's internal rules but Chheang did not expect
changes to rules about party discipline, in the wake of Sam Rainsy's dismissal from
Funcinpec and the National Assembly last year.
Chheang - who is also first vice-president of the National Assembly and presided
over Rainsy's expulsion as an MP in June - described the Rainsy affair as a "personal
case" which did not indicate wider problems within Funcinpec.
He said "special powers" would continue to be vested in Ranariddh as president
because "the political situation is not yet stable."
"Our party thinks that in this special situation, the president must have full
power. Only the president can unite all the Funcinpec members, including the police
and military staff."
Since appointed Secretary-General on Jan 4, Chheang has moved to reorganize the Funcinpec
leadership, cutting the number of deputy secretary-generals from seven to two (Ho
Sok and Chhim Seak Leng).