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KNP II Congress: brought and paid for

KNP II Congress: brought and paid for

F IRST there was BLDP I and BLDP II. Now there is KNP I and II, after Khmer Nation

Party renegade Nguon Soeur, sacked by the party's steering committee, held what he

declared to be a "successful" breakaway congress last week.

Regardless of your definition of successful, it was hard to take it seriously at

times. Soeur claimed a turnout of 4,000 at the congress, held at his Phnom Penh house,

though the consensus of journalists was that it was well below 1,000.

Many of those spoken to by the Post said they came from the notorious squatter area

near the Russian Embassy and had no clue what the congress was all about. Bearing

no KNP membership cards, many said they came for the $5 promised to them, but which

few seemed to have actually received.

"Nguon Soeur promised to give $5 for joining his meeting," said Tuon Sovann,

38, one of the many who gave the same response when asked by the Post.

Kang Nim, aged 70 and from the same rough neighborhood, said she came after she was

paid her 500 riels moto-taxi fee to get there.

"They gave me the invitation at my house in bouding [a slang name for the squatter

area]," said Ly Ret. "I am not a member of this party nor do I have any

membership card."

Why did she come? "I don't know," she said.

Seen among the crowd was: a crippled man, his invitation stuck to his chest, crawling

on hands and knees; a middle-aged woman with her tiny, pale baby wrapped in a krama

staring blankly from her perch on the ground; a drunk-looking man more interested

in his breakfast of mango and chilly salt than the official goings-on.

Some people killed their boredom by playing angkunh, a traditional game, paying no

attention to what Soeur was saying through a loudspeaker.

Soeur himself had no secrets to hide, acknowledging that he had paid money - 10,000

riels ($4), he said - to each of the 15,000 people he had invited. The money was

just charity, not "to hire them to come to my congress", he said.

"I was happy to help them, you can't buy their hearts with 10,000 riels. I was

so sorry for not having much money, otherwise I would have given them more,"

Soeur told the Post later.

"No one gave me the money. My wife owns five restaurants in France and the money

I gave was not a big deal."

At the congress, every motion, including amendments to the statutes of the Soeur

"party", was approved with applause given on Soeur's request.

Before closing the congress, his secretary general Sok Kosal asked the supporters

to stand up to repeat after him an oath. But except for the senior officials at the

presiding desk, most of those present didn't bother opening their mouths.

"It was 100 percent successful," Soeur said of the congress.

Meanwhile, Rainsy, who held his own national council meeting of KNP the next day,

was not amused.

Noting that Soeur had been expelled in accordance with party statutes - and that

in any other country political parties' names were protected by trademark - he complained

that "if Nguon can set up another KNP, I could set up another Funcinpec tomorrow.

It's ridiculous."

More than 400 KNP national council members were estimated to have attended Rainsy's

meeting, where not a word was publicly spoken about Soeur's cross-town congress the

day before.

Rainsy, in his speech, attacked the lack of "substance" in Cambodia's democracy,

particularly with the failure to set up the Constitutional Council.

He criticized the government's lack of recognition of KNP, but predicted the party

would survive to see a rosy future - it would be the Cambodian People's Party main

opposition at the 1998 election, he said, because Funcinpec would have collapsed

by then.

KNP secretary-general Khieu Rada reported that the party now had 84,430 registered

members, and branches in the United States, France, Australia and five other countries.

Rada confirmed KNP had changed its founding date - from Nov 9, Independence Day,

to Nov 2 - and its Jayavarman VII logo, in line with requests from the King.

But that will not help them secure government recognition of KNP, according to Minister

of Interior You Hockry, who said the issue was not simply the party's logo and founding

date.

Nguon Soeur, meanwhile, said he had submitted papers to the Ministry of Interior

to register his group as a political party named KNP, though Hockry said he knew

of no such move.

Rainsy, asked whether the government might recognize the Soeur faction, said: "I

would like them to do that very much because it would be blatantly ridiculous."

Hockry, however, seemed as unimpressed with Soeur's KNP as Rainsy's.

"We do not recognize them," he said, adding that the government would wait

until an as-yet undrafted electoral law was passed before it considered recognizing

either group.

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