Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec II limps into life in Paris

Funcinpec II limps into life in Paris

Funcinpec II limps into life in Paris

A RIVAL Funcinpec, true to form to Cambodia's trend of fractured political parties,

was launched in Paris last weekend with more of a whimper than a bang.

Eighteen people attended a so-called "Funcinpec World Congress" to elect

a new party president to 'replace' Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Nev Se, a congress organizer and newly-elected Secretary-General of the breakaway

group, claimed nearly 300 proxy votes were also sent by Funcinpec members in Cambodia,

France and Canada.

The new Funcinpec "president" is Suos Pom, a 50-year-old midwife, who is

also a member of Sam Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party (KNP).

Rainsy, widely believed to be supporting the Funcinpec renegades, denied any direct

link to them.

Most significant was the absence from the congress of Funcinpec's former Secretary-General

Prince Norodom Siri-vudh, in exile in Paris, after he had been touted as a candidate

for the president's position.

The location of the July 21 congress was changed to a bigger venue at the last minute

because of expectations that "more than 200 people" would attend, Nev Se

told a Post correspondent in Paris.

However, he said the actual turnout totaled 18 people - four organizers and 14 others

- although 203 proxy votes were sent from Cambodia, 44 from France and two or three

from Canada.

Rejecting any suggestion of disappointment at the result, Nev Se said that "this

is the beginning of the unrest within Funcinpec" and little by little "the

real Funcinpec" would join the mavericks.

Congress participants, all described as card-holding Funcinpec members, amended party

by-laws to make them "truly democratic" and declared their lack of confidence

in Ranariddh.

They reaffirmed loyalty to King Norodom Sihanouk, Funcinpec's founder, and appealed

to "all Cambodian patriotic and democratic" forces to unite to "overthrow

the totalitarian communist regime which serves foreign interests."

Suos Pom was elected Funcinpec president, with Sun Samphi as vice-president and Nev

Se secretary-general.

Sam Rainsy, in Phnom Penh, confirmed that several in the breakaway group, including

Suos Pom, were members of KNP.

Denying any "official involvement on the part of KNP's leadership in the internal

affairs of Funcinpec", he said any KNP members involved with the congress were

acting as "individuals."

Some 70 percent of KNP members also belonged to Funcinpec, he said, and "they

are entitled to contest the Funcinpec leadership, but under their Funcinpec hat."

Earlier, the congress had been announced in a unsigned statement sent by facsimile

from the KNP in Phnom Penh.

The statement, warning that Funcinpec was headed for disaster under Ranariddh, said

Sirivudh had been "approached" to be a presidential candidate at the congress.

But Sirivudh did not attend. Repeated Post efforts to contact him for comment in

Paris were unsuccessful.

However, Rainsy told a Phnom Penh press conference that Sirivudh had earlier told

him he was ready to head an alliance of opposition groups.

Sirivudh - exiled last year over an alleged plot to kill Hun Sen - also said that

he was prepared to return home and go to prison if need be, according to Rainsy.

Funcinpec officials in Phnom Penh reacted angrily to the Paris congress, issuing

a statement urging journalists to stop reporting "groundless" information

about a Funcinpec split.

The statement affirmed that there was only one Funcinpec party, founded by the King

and led by Ranariddh.

Political observers, meanwhile, said a key issue was whether the King would denounce

the breakaway group for using Funcinpec's name.

Ranariddh's Cabinet chief, Ly Thuch, said: "The King is neutral and independent.

He doesn't need to make any comment. He is above the party, and he knows that his

son is a good leader of Funcinpec."

The only hint of the King's views were included in the latest monthly bulletin issued

by the Palace, which included a copy of the statement announcing the congress and

newspaper clippings about it.

In handwritten annotations to the statement, the King wrote that the ancient Khmer

Empire and that of Angkor would not have survived if Cambodians had quarreled and

fought each other.

Once Khmers started to become divided, he wrote, Cambodia had begun its long decline.

In notes written on a newspaper clipping, the King suggested the congress was a "coup

de Jarnac" ("decisive and unexpected blow", according to the Oxford

Hachette French dictionary) by the "Rainsy-ists."

Next to a quote from a Funcinpec official that the party was "not afraid"

of the congress, the King wrote: "Not afraid. Bravo! Worried? Not even, I think!"

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