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Political bickering heats up as King returns

Political bickering heats up as King returns

KING Norodom Sihanouk has returned to Cambodia as behind-the-scenes tension

between political factions is growing increasingly public and

vitriolic.

Apparent political lobbying over the role of the King and over

the government's policy on the outlawed Khmer Rouge has led to series of

forthright statements by key leaders.

The King, who is expected to spend

much of his three-and-a-half months in Cambodia in Siem Reap and Battambang, has

so far remained publicly quiet since his return from his Beijing home, on Jan

4.

On Dec 27, Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) president Son Sann

made an "urgent appeal" to the leaders of the coalition government - of which

his party in the smallest member - to offer King Sihanouk "all powers necessary"

to realize his crusade for national reconciliation.

Some saw the

statement as a sign of BLDP's implied willingness to let King Sihanouk assume

power as ruler, a move banned by the current constitution which says the King

"holds the throne but shall not hold power".

Several days after the

appeal, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Cabinet issued a

statement saying the will of the people could only be implemented through

Cambodia's democratic institutions.

The statement also referred to Prime

Ranariddh, head of the royalist Funcinpec party, as a "Santa Claus" to his

people.

Prince Ranariddh himself, asked what "all powers necessary"

meant, replied: "You should ask Samdech Son Sann himself. Who can change the

constitution?"

He reaffirmed the King's determination to abide by the

country's supreme legislature, the National Assembly, and said that changing the

constitution would mean not taking into account the will of the

people.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) seemed to enter the

fray on Jan 7, the 16th anniversary of the Vietnamese-backed revolution which

toppled the Khmer Rouge's Pol Pot regime in 1979.

Chea Sim, CPP member

and Chairman of the National Assembly, delivered an anniversary speech in which

he attacked "certain politicians and opportunists". In an apparent reference to

the BLDP statement for national reconciliation, he said some people wanted to

destroy the constitution and seize power by "playing the Khmer Rouge

card".

"This is adventurous politics, a fatal danger for history, for the

people as well as for themselves," he said. "The outlawed Khmer Rouge and a

group of opportunists are looking down with contempt on the vital interests of

the Cambodian people."

Some in the 3000-strong anniversary party

gathering, which foreign diplomats were invited to witness, carried banners like

"We are absolutely against any attempts to destroy the constitution in any shape

or form, and from whatever source".

Chea Sim described the era of the

CPP's governance of the country as historical and glorious days which reminded

Cambodians of their suffering and terror under the former KR

rule.

Pointing out that Jan 7 was also the six-month anniversary of the

National Assembly's outlawing of the KR, he said: "This decision shows the will

and the determination of our people. They will not allow the genocidal regime to

take place again on this beautiful Land of Angkor."

Political observers, who asked not to be named, said BLDP's goal of achieving

national reconciliation involved having the KR included in the coalition - a

proposal strongly opposed by the Royal Government, especially the

CPP.

Second Premier Hun Sen, CPP's vice-president, left no doubt about

his position in his comments at the ceremony: "I'd like to reaffirm that article

17 of the constitution does not allow the MPs to make any amendment... the

provision [that] the King reigns but does not rule categorically cannot be

amended."

Speaking to reporters at the ceremony, Hun Sen warned that

those who tried to destroy the constitution would face the force of the

government's military.

"This is not a threat, but I already did it in the

case of [the July coup plotters] Chakrapong, Sin Song and Sin Sen," he said. "In

my capacity as a Prime Minister and a commander-in-chief, I will use forces to

protect the constitution."

In a further statement, the BLDP defended

itself from criticism and insisted its earlier appeal would not violate the

constitution if accepted, within the law, by the National Assembly and the

Cambodian people.

The Khmer Rouge itself, meanwhile, appeared to enter

the debate when it issued a call for peace and national

reconciliation.

KR nominal leader Khieu Samphan, in a Jan 7 radio

broadcast, said: "All of us can see the situation cannot be solved through

weapons.

"If the government does not end the fighting, its action should

be considered a great crime."

A foreign diplomat in Phnom Penh agreed

that political tension appeared to be increasing.

"It looks like somebody

is making the situation tense despite the fact that the King has returned. The

King has been very quiet."

The diplomat said the CPP threats against

opponents were quite serious and not democratic - "For a democracy you have to

have different views."

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