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Parties jockey over Sirivudh's return

Parties jockey over Sirivudh's return

A MID continued arm-flexing within Cambodia's ruling coalition, elements of both parties

have faced off against each other over the return of Prince Norodom Sirivudh, a potential

flash-point to the political turmoil.

National Police Chief and CPP-appointee Hok Lundy - known to be a long-time ally

of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen - this week issued a thinly-veiled threat to jail

Sirivudh if he came back from exile in France.

Funcinpec officials replied by insisting permission be given for Sirivudh's return,

and First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh is understood to have written to

Sirivudh pledging his support.

"If the police cause any problems, Funcinpec and the people would not accept

it," warned Serei Kosal - the Funcinpec deputy governor of Battambang who recently

mobilized troops in the province to oppose what he described as CPP initimidation.

Funcinpec, according to another senior party official who would not be named, has

embarked on a deliberate campaign to antangonize Hun Sen.

The aim, said the source, was to provoke Hun Sen into taking drastic action likely

to draw national and international condemnation of him.

Adding fuel to an already volatile political mixture, the Khmer Rouge hardliners

- as well as much of the breakaway KR in the north - have voiced support for Ranariddh.

The return of Sirivudh is likely to be a key test in the brinkmanship between Funcinpec

and CPP.

A senior CPP source - who is not a supporter of Hun Sen - claimed that the Prime

Minister has privately threatened to have a coup d'etat if Sirivudh returns.

Diplomats, meanwhile, have suggested that Hun Sen's opposition to Sirivudh's return

is not so much related to the Prince as to the possible amnesty of Sin Song, Prince

Norodom Chakrapong and Sin Sen.

The three CPP officials were convicted of involvement in the 1994 attempted coup.

Sin Song and Chakrapong are abroad, and Sin Sen was released from prison into house

arrest on medical grounds.

Hun Sen, in a Sept interview with the Post, complained of attempts to link the amnesty

granted to KR breakaway leader Ieng Sary with possible amnesties for Sirivudh, Sin

Song, Sin Sen and Chakrapong.

If the cases were linked, he said, everyone convicted of any crime should be freed

and "anyone can carry out a coup d'etat with impunity".

Lundy, the National Police chief, issued a statement Dec 10 as rumors mounted that

Sirivudh was planning to return to Cambodia Dec 21.

"The... national police maintain a firm position in implementing the verdict

of the Phnom Penh court...which sentenced Prince Norodom Sirivudh to ten years in

prison," the statement read.

"...no organization or individual can obstruct the power of the court's verdict

except for His Majesty the King who has the right to amnesty or reduce sentences

of prisoners..."

The King has the Constitutional right to grant amnesty but in practice has said that

he will not do so without the prior permission of both PMs.

Sirivudh, Funcinpec's former Secretary General, was exiled to France late last year

for an alleged plot to kill Hun Sen, and later convicted in absentia to 10 years

in jail.

The head of Ranariddh's cabinet, Ly Thuch, said Funcinpec continued to support Sirivudh's

return and insisted he be allowed back.

"[Sirivudh] has not committed any wrong compared to many former Khmer Rouge

who have been pardoned," Thuch said.

At press time, it was unclear whether Lundy's statement was made on his own volition.

You Hockry (Funcinpec), one of the two Ministers of Interior who are Lundy's superiors,

said he had not been consulted on the issue.

"I am seeking an explanation from Hok Lundy - neither myself or [co-Minister]

Sar Kheng has approved this statement."

Asked about Sirivudh's return, Hockry said that "at this moment I think he should

stay in France".

Sar Kheng was unavailable for comment, but a CPP source said that Lundy spoke by

telephone with Kheng before issuing the statement.

"Hok Lundi would not do anything before getting the green light from Sar Kheng,"

the source said.

The threat to arrest Sirivudh came amid continuing military tension between Funcinpec

and CPP.

Though both parties have played down the situation, rivalries culminated Dec 5 with

an exchange of fire between soldiers - the second in recent weeks - in Battambang

town.

Funcinpec's Battambang police commissioner Varn Chhunly said the exchange - involving

the firing of at least four B-40 rockets and small arms outside a CPP office - was

not related to the political situation.

Battambang's CPP Governor Ung Samy said the incident was the result of "somebody

who had a plan to create a political problem".

"We ignored the incident because we don't want a dispute...

"But it does not mean I am afraid of fighting...I will never be afraid to fight

back, but what we need is peace for our people."

Meanwhile, the remaining hard-line KR seemed to be relishing the coalition split,

declaring their support for Funcinpec.

A KR radio broadcast Nov 29 urged Funcinpec forces to "fight back against the

communist Vietnam puppets", a KR metaphor for CPP.

In early December, a second broadcast urged that all power be handed to Ranariddh.

At the same time, Funcinpec is widely seen as having made overtures to Sam Rainsy's

Khmer Nation Party (KNP).

"It is very obvious to everyone that the KR, KNP and Funcinpec will be in the

same coalition when the election comes," said one CPP official.

The increasingly risky political situation has created concern among diplomats and

international observers who fear the current situation has all but scuttled the chances

of free and fair elections in 1997 and 1998.

Ranariddh has complained that two Funcinpec officials were killed in suspicious circumstances

in recent weeks, and vowed not to tolerate intimidation in the election campaign.

Thomas Hammarberg, the UN representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, said this

week he was worried about political violence.

"In terms of the elections, there seems to be a level of violence already and

there is the prospect that the elections themselves will increase the risk.

"...the fact that people are beginning to talk about postponing elections because

of [the threat] of violence is a very bad sign," he said.

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