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Rainsy says he's open to CPP courtship

Rainsy says he's open to CPP courtship

KHMER Nation Party president Sam Rainsy has revealed that he is seriously discussing

the possibility of a KNP-CPP governing coalition, at Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's

suggestion.

"Hun Sen's attitude [about elections] started to thaw when he talked about an

alliance. He was very happy with this new spirit," Rainsy said in a Jan 25 interview.

"As long as Hun Sen is in power, we are in a deadlock. The only way out is to

help Hun Sen as a human being and assure him he can continue to play a role.

"It is the deal he proposed to me... to make an alliance."

The offer comes barely a month since a landmark handshake between the two politicians,

and around 10 months since Rainsy blamed Hun Sen for the March 30 grenade attack

at the gates of the National Assembly that killed at least 17 demonstrators and bystanders.

Rainsy called the attack an assassination attempt.

However , since Hun Sen's consolidation of power and the ouster of Rainsy's political

ally Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Rainsy now says Hun Sen needs the credibility the

KNP can provide in a new coalition. To get it, Hun Sen will have to make concrete

progress toward peace and elections, Rainsy said.

"I want to be free of bitterness and hatred. There can be a new spirit [of forgiveness],"

he said. "I think that Hun Sen wants to rehabilitate himself morally and politically.

Also, he should be encouraged and gain assurances that there are not people who will

take revenge for his past wrongdoings."

Prak Sokhonn, a political adviser to Hun Sen, confirmed on-going discussions between

Hun Sen and Rainsy about cooperating politically, but cautioned: "We are not

talking about an alliance yet."

While Rainsy agreed to a political alliance with the CPP in principle, he said he

requested several conditions be met by Hun Sen first: a ceasefire; "relatively

free and fair elections" which would entail the disbanding of militias loyal

to the CPP around the country; and that an alliance be open to other like-minded

political parties.

"I cannot switch sides while there is a war going on... It would be disgraceful,"

he said. "I cannot leave my allies in the Union of Cambodian Democrats and form

an alliance while the war goes on."

But after an end to hostilities and the conclusion of credible elections, an alliance

could be formed with the party that wins the most votes taking the premiership and

the other playing a supporting role in the government.

Rainsy said that a legitimate election, including the participation of Prince Ranariddh,

was crucial for an alliance to form because he does not want to be an accomplice

in "tricking the people" by working with Hun Sen in a farcical election.

To guarantee that the electoral environment can be free of voter intimidation, he

said he has asked Hun Sen to demobilize militia around the country, a condition he

said Hun Sen has already agreed to.

"In the countryside, it is not the regular soldiers who come to kill you, it

is the militia," Rainsy explained.

Just 10 days after the most recent meeting between Hun Sen and Rainsy, the Second

Prime Minister added weight to the KNP chief's version at a militia disarming ceremony

at RCAF's Special Military Region headquarters.

"The demolition of arms signifies the goodwill of the Royal government and armed

forces in... creating a neutral political atmosphere for the sake of creating a multi-party

democracy, especially for the forthcoming elections," Hun Sen said.

"We will proceed to disarm the militia according to plan," he added.

The KNP president also said he continues to push for ballots to be counted at least

at the district level instead of the village level where intimidation and tampering

might be easier to hide. The national election law calls for votes to be counted

at the polling stations unless the National Election Commission (NEC) determines

otherwise.

"We added the last part so the ballot boxes can be moved in case there is any

kind of trouble," an election source said.

The KNP's final condition for a political alliance with the CPP is to open the coalition

to other parties that share common goals.

Drawing a comparison, Rainsy criticized the Prince Ranariddh-Hun Sen coalition formed

after the 1993 elections as an alliance that had no goals other than "power

for the sake of power".

Rainsy said that a key point for Hun Sen is to make sure that the Ranariddh-Rainsy

tandem is not rock-solid against him. "He wants to be sure that I am not forever

with Ranariddh [and] against him."

And considering that the working relationship between the Ranariddh and Rainsy has

been rocky since the Prince and Hun Sen colluded to throw him out of the government

and National Assembly, the KNP president inferred that Hun Sen's present concerns

were not a problem.

"I have been a victim of Hun Sen and Ranariddh, especially Hun Sen. But I want

to show the Cambodian people there can be a new spirit. In 1998, there shouldn't

be the same conditions as you had in 1993 with Ranariddh. That would be a disaster...

Why should we always do as we have done so far. There is no room for hatred,"

he said.

Forgiveness must go far, according to Rainsy, and could even entail Hun Sen's participation

in a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the grenade attack.

"Hun Sen told me if I have a commemorating ceremony on the first anniversary

of the March 30 attack, he would like to attend," Rainsy said, adding that the

Second Prime Minister would be welcome.

It is a dramatic change from Rainsy's allegations - made in France last year - that

Hun Sen was behind the attack. He dared the Second Prime Minister to sue him for

slander in a French court if he thought he could clear his name.

Asked if he could really trust Hun Sen and the CPP to follow through with their side

of the bargain and not temporarily use the KNP to gain the favor of the international

community, Rainsy admitted he would have to make "an act of faith - faith in

Cambodia, faith in reason and common sense".

"I accept to be realistic and to move at the proper pace," he added. "So

we have to adapt our plan and our behavior to circumstances."

The unraveling of a deal Rainsy tried brokering to bring Ranariddh back into the

country with a Royal pardon did not discourage him. Rainsy blamed the failed initiative

on the CPP standing committee, who he said convinced Hun Sen to change his stance

and put pressure on King Sihanouk.

"There is a determination within the CPP for Ranariddh not to return,"

he said. "Ranariddh is the only man who can put together the bulk of Funcinpec,

including the soldiers, police and [lower-ranking party officials]."

While Rainsy said he has been in contact with the King, who has remained virtually

silent on political issues since his abrupt Jan 5 departure from Cambodia, the KNP

president refused to discuss the content of those communications.

Prak Sokhonn suggested that Rainsy is not in a position to comment on the internal

workings of the CPP. "Let Sam Rainsy say whatever he thinks. I won't comment

on that," he said.

"The CPP is a very disciplined and democratic party. People exchange their views

and ideas. I think in the standing committee, as well as in the whole party, everything

is done with the approval of all," Prak Sokhonn said.

Although he was upbeat when discussing cooperation between the KNP and the CPP, Rainsy

said he has not been jaded by Hun Sen's conciliatory words.

The problems with bringing back the Prince, the European Union's approval of election

aid without tough conditions, and the make-up of the NEC are not positive signs,

he said.

"Time is running short. I have less and less hope on the elections. I think

we must come to some kind of arrangement for the elections, and it must start with

a ceasefire."

Rainsy said he is waiting for Hun Sen to show substantial advances toward a ceasefire.

He also said he is waiting to see if the Second Prime Minister will take a chance

at redemption and allow Cambodia's democratic process to move forward in peace, rather

than stifle it through intimidation and war.

"Hun Sen has to seize this offer. I may not be able to make it forever. If I

am eliminated, the extremes have to fight each other. Then who will find a way out?"

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