AFTER months of threats and anger, the co-Prime Ministers last week embraced each
other for the cameras in a reconciliation which lasted less than 24 hours.
Attending a May 7 Council of Ministers meeting, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun
Sen officially agreed to tone down their war of words through Cambodia's television
and radio networks. They approved a government ban on the broadcasting of political
attacks by TV and radio stations.
Ranariddh, as he went into the meeting, remarked to journalists: "The political
atmosphere is not very good - it is quite bad."
After three hours, he and Hun Sen emerged all smiles, kissing each other on the cheek,
but left without public comment.
Cabinet spokesman Sok An (CPP) told reporters that the meeting had agreed that "the
government should function normally" and take action to reduce public feuding
between the two parties.
A decision had been made that political attacks between the two PMs would not be
aired on television or radio, Sok An said, adding: "We hope and wish that it
will be fairly implemented."
The next day, Ranariddh delivered a fiery oration in Siem Reap, demanding the replacement
of Funcinpec rogue Toan Chay as the province's governor. Officially launching Funcinpec's
1998 election campaign, Ranariddh warned that Hun Sen would "bring a communist
dictatorship" if elected.
Parts of the speech were later broadcast on Funcinpec's Channel 9 television network,
to the chagrin of the Information Ministry which was given the mandate to police
the airwaves for verbal missiles.
"Station owners who do not respect the order violate the decision of the Council
of Ministers and moreover look down on the Prime Ministers," said Undersecretary
of State for Information Sieng Lapresse. He added, in apparent reference to Ranariddh's
long-standing claims that Hun Sen is a Vietnamese puppet: "The two Prime Ministers
are not yuon [Vietnamese] Prime Ministers."
But asked whether the Ministry of Information would take legal action against Channel
9, Lapresse said: "Let the people make their judgment ... the Prime Minister
gave an order himself and he [violated it] himself."
Ranariddh, in his Siem Reap speech, insisted that governor Toan Chay - who has taken
the lead in the Funcinpec revolt challenging Ranariddh - be replaced. The Prime Minister
declared the Funcinpec Undersecretary of State for Defense, Krouch Yeoun, as the
province's new governor.
Ranariddh openly challenged Hun Sen over the appointment, which, like all government
and provincial placements, must be approved by both Prime Ministers.
"If Hun Sen does not agree, it means that he interferes in Funcinpec's affairs
because [the governor of] Siem Reap is Funcinpec's quota," he said.
Ranariddh also blamed Hun Sen for creating the rift within Funcinpec, accused Hun
Sen of being a puppet of the Vietnamese and demanded that immigration and border
problems with Cambodia's eastern neighbor be resolved.
The Prince also rounded on Hun Sen's attitude toward the Royal family, asking: "If
he wins the election in 1998, will there still be a monarchy?". He threatened
to organize a mass "demonstration for peace" if Hun Sen did not stop attacking
King Norodom Sihanouk.
"If we vote for Hun Sen, the regime will not be a free democratic regime or
a constitutional monarchy, but communist. It means that what we did for the sake
of democracy in 1993 will be destroyed," Ranariddh added.
"Please take pity on the Khmer nation, do not vote for Hun Sen!," exclaimed
The same day that Ranariddh lashed out at Hun Sen, the joint Funcinpec-CPP conflict
resolution committee issued a declaration reaffirming the neutrality of police and
The statement, signed by the eight most senior army and police officials, reaffirmed
bans against the movement of troops and weapons without the approval of the Royal
Cambodian Armed Forces and Ministry of Interior hierarchy.
The joint commission also established guidelines for the release of information,
particularly via television. Specifically, the document "prohibits any dissemination
of information affecting national security."
Ranariddh left Cambodia May 9 for a trip to France, which will include a stint teaching
law at a university where he remains a professor.
In Paris, he met with Khmer Nation Party leader Sam Rainsy, who then returned to
Phnom Penh May 12. At Pochentong airport, where he was met by a group of Funcinpec
police, Rainsy urged the formation of a care-taker government if Ranariddh and Hun
Sen could no longer work together.
Hun Sen, meanwhile, in a May 12 interview with foreign journalists, said that he
was confident that he had the power to topple Ranariddh but said "now is not
the right time".
Elsewhere in the interview, he said that he had never intended to remove Ranariddh
as First Prime Minister. He claimed that some parliamentarians had within the past
two weeks proposed passing a law to prohibit Royal family members from politics,
but he had declined support.
"If that law was adopted, it would be the end of Ranariddh," said Hun Sen,
adding that the law could be passed by a simple majority in the National Assembly
if several renegade Funcinpec MPs voted with the CPP.
"But I disagreed with it today and I would disagree again tomorrow, so the First
Prime Minister can stay in his job until the end of the government."
The National Assembly, meanwhile, remains deadlocked as MPs loyal to Ranariddh -
who control the parliament's steering committee - have moved to stop any sitting
by the assembly.
Unresolved is whether Funcinpec MPs in the breakaway bloc can be removed from their
assembly seats, as happened with Sam Rainsy when he was expelled from Funcinpec in
The freeze on the National Assembly is throwing Cambodia's membership into the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in doubt. Cambodia is supposed to pass several
laws, to meet ASEAN membership requirements, by late this month.
A compromise sitting of the assembly - in which only the ASEAN laws would be put
on the agenda - has been mooted.
Meanwhile, the Funcinpec breakaway appears stalemated, with no new renegades from
the party joining it. Revolt leader Toan Chay is known to have requested a meeting
with Ranariddh, but was rejected.
Chay, in a May 6 press conference, appeared to soften his line against Ranariddh.
He said he did not want to overthrow the Prince as party leader, and that he hoped
the party's problems could be settled by discussion.
Chay also took strong exception to a statement in the last Phnom Penh Post that he
had attempted to overthrow Ranariddh in a 1986 plot on the Thai border.
Chay later told the Post there were internal problems within Funcinpec in 1986 but
he was not involved in any move against Ranariddh. He said he did not want to discuss
past events, but stressed that he had never been disloyal to Ranariddh.