THE coalition government tottered perilously this week as the Cambodian People's
Party (CPP) supported Funcinpec dissidents who challenged Prince Norodom Ranariddh's
leadership of their party.
Funcinpec MP and Minister of State Ung Phan - who is historically close to Second
Prime Minister Hun Sen (CPP) - on Tuesday split from Ranariddh to form a rival Funcinpec
Condemning Ranariddh's ability to lead the party and the government, Ung Phan accused
the First Prime Minister of a series of "blunders" which threatened to
lead Cambodia to "great disaster".
The extent of support for Phan within Funcinpec was unclear. Only one other party
MP spoken to by the Post, Ros Hean, publicly backed Phan. Two others offered him
Phan said he would not leave Funcinpec but wanted to find an alternative leader.
He also pledged to seek to "reinforce" the coalition alliance with CPP.
A CPP statement issued within hours of Phan going public endorsed his complaints
against Ranariddh, and added that Phan and his supporters would play a "key
and active role" in strengthening the Funcinpec-CPP coalition.
Hun Sen moved to protect Ung Phan's position as Minister of State, delivering a speech
Tuesday afternoon in which he warned that officials could not be removed for "exercising
their right to support or oppose a political party or eminent political figures".
At Post press time, Funcinpec was mustering a formal response to Phan and was widely
expected to expel him from the party.
Funcinpec officials privately alleged that Phan's move was engineered by Hun Sen
in order to give him a pretext for a coup d'Etat. They claimed that the Second Prime
Minister, without support from the Chea Sim faction of CPP, had been close to
staging a coup on Tuesday this week.
Ranariddh returned from abroad on Wednesday - party officials would not say where
he had been or why - and was met at Pochentong Airport by top Funcinpec general Nhek
Bun Chhay and a large number of heavily-armed troops.
Ranariddh, without talking to reporters, went straight into a meeting with senior
Later Wednesday night, the CPP police and military chiefs issued statements stepping
up security and appealing for calm.
National Police director Hok Lundy ordered police to be on alert for "acts of
terrorism" and increase protection for politicians, press and diplomats.
Soon after, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces chief of general staff Ke Kim Yan ordered
military commanders to strictly control their soldiers and weapons. He added that
anyone who caused "noise or explosions" should be detained.
Political observers interpreted Phan's declaration against Ranariddh as a classic
Hun Sen-inspired divide and conquer tactic, at a time of intense political pressure.
Phan announced his Funcinpec rebellion on Tuesday (Apr 15), the same day as exiled
Prince Norodom Sirivudh was attempting to return to Cambodia.
Sirivudh had decided to come home against the wishes of both Prime Ministers. In
previous days, Ranariddh had asked Sirivudh to postpone it, while Hun Sen warned
that his return could be "the spark that feeds the fire".
King Norodom Sihanouk, in an Apr 7 statement, said he could not "make an enemy"
of Hun Sen by granting Sirivudh a pardon. But the King warned: "I am ready to
abdicate immediately if the Norodom Sirivudh affair is going to be settled through
Sources say that Hun Sen has for months been convinced that the King will abdicate
and enter politics before the 1998 national elections. One observer suggested Hun
Sen feared that any confrontation over Sirivudh's return would give the King a pretext
As Sirivudh was stranded at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday, unable to find an airline
willing to carry him to Phnom Penh, a pre-recorded statement by Ung Phan was broadcast
on the state-run TVK and CPP-controlled Apsara television stations.
Phan claimed that a large portion of Funcinpec "can no longer accept the leadership"
of Ranariddh, who was leading Cambodia "toward great disaster."
Phan blamed Ranariddh for a year of political instability, and accused the First
Prime Minister of trying to boost Funcinpec's military might before the 1998 election,
leading to "anarchy" within the armed forces.
Phan slammed the creation of the National United Front as a "coup d'Etat"
by Ranariddh against his own government. By seeking support for NUF from Khmer Rouge
hardliners in Anlong Veng, Ranariddh was "leading Funcinpec into a corridor
that would favor the return of the genocidal regime".
Phan also accused Ranariddh of protecting suspected drug traffickers, artifact smugglers
and armed robbers within Funcinpec.
Rejecting "the dangerous leadership" of Ranariddh, Phan said he and his
supporters would remain in Funcinpec but look for "another personality"
to be their leader. It added: "We propose to take effective measures to reinforce
the alliance between partners in the coalition government for the sake of its normal
An unsigned CPP statement issued the same day supported "every point" made
by Phan, and promised him a key role in "re-consolidating" the government
A brief Funcinpec communiqué said that the party considered Phan's "delirious
declaration" to be null and void, and that officials would consider the "case
of Mr Ung Phan" immediately.
Privately, Funcinpec officials described Phan as a Hun Sen stool pigeon. "He
has betrayed us once and now he betrays us again," said one.
The histories of Phan, Hun Sen and Sirivudh are all intertwined.
Phan was one of the key witnesses against Sirivudh over an alleged 1995 plot to kill
Hun Sen, which led to the Prince's exile. Phan tape-recorded a telephone conversation
in which Sirivudh reportedly threatened to "shoot to kill" Hun Sen. A written
deposition by Phan was presented at Sirivudh's subsequent in absentia trial, which
sentenced him to 10 years jail.
Before defecting to Funcinpec in 1992, Phan was for many years close to Hun Sen.
Phan accompanied Hun Sen when he fled the Khmer Rouge regime to Vietnam in 1977.
Phan was later the Minister of Communications and Transport under Hun Sen's State
of Cambodia government between 1988-90.
He was one of a group of government officials imprisoned without trial from May 1990
to Oct 1991 for attempting to establish a new political party in the then one-party
According to a Post interview with Phan in January 1992, he blamed the Chea Sim faction
of the CPP for his detention. Phan said that both he and Hun Sen had similar views
on political liberalism.
Five days after the interview, and while Phan was attempting to establish another
political party, he was wounded in an assassination attempt on Monivong Blvd. Hun
Sen, seen weeping after visiting him at Calmette Hospital told one reporter of the
deep friendship between the two. Hun Sen said they shared views on the development
of a multi-party system but had only disagreed on the timing and pace of such a development.
Phan subsequently joined FUNCINPEC, and was elected to parliament as a party MP for
Svay Rieng in 1993. A member of the party's steering committee, he was appointed
Minister of State.
Since the Sirivudh affair, Phan has mostly been out of the country. According to
an aide of his, Phan had been taking a one-year English language course in Long Beach,
California. The course was not due to finish until June this year, but Phan had come
back to Cambodia three weeks ago "for the Khmer New Year," the aide said.
CPP-aligned military police officers were on guard outside Phan's Phnom Penh home
following his declaration against Ranariddh. In a telephone interview, Phan claimed
"more than 10" Funcinpec officials supported him, but would not name them
"for security reasons".
Ros Hean, a Funcinpec MP representing Prey Veng, confirmed that he backed Phan. He
claimed support from more than 20 Funcinpec MPs, provincial governors or military
officers, but would not name any.
Hean said the group did not oppose Funcinpec but wanted to "rehabilitate the
reputation and popularity" of the party.
Hean is also a former CPP member, and one of those jailed with Phan in 1990. Two
other members of that group who were imprisoned then, and who are now Funcinpec MPs,
also offered limited support to Phan's statement against Ranariddh.
Nou Saing Khan - who replaced Sam Rainsy in the National Assembly when he was expelled
- praised Phan's "bravery".
"Ung Phan is right, I support him," Saing Khan said, while at the same
time adding that he was not prepared to sign Phan's statement.
Kann Man, a Funcinpec MP and chairman of the parliamentary commission on labor and
health, said he supported Phan's comments about corruption within Funcinpec.
But he added: "We do not know who wrote that statement [of Phan's]. Maybe it
was written by someone else who asked Ung Phan to read it.
"I don't know what Ung Phan is going to do. Does he want to go back to the communists?
I will not go with him."
One foreign diplomat said Phan's action was almost certainly supported by Hun Sen,
in a bid to split Funcinpec much the same as he had with the Buddhist Liberal Democratic
The diplomat suggested that Phan would gather some backing from Funcinpec members
disgruntled with Ranariddh's leadership style - particularly from those who were
not "expatriate Khmers" with dual nationalities - but doubted whether he
was strong enough to lead a major rebellion.
Theoretically, at least, if Phan can attract just a few Funcinpec MPs - and align
them with CPP - he could eliminate the majority held by Ranariddh and his allies
in the National Assembly.