F ROSTY relations between Funcinpec Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam
Rainsy have thawed, following what was widely seen as an increasing divide between
Ranariddh and co-Prime Minister Hun Sen.
One Funcinpec MP this week called for Ranariddh to consider an alliance with Rainsy's
Khmer Nation Party (KNP), while others were hopeful that reconciliation between the
two was in the air.
Rainsy, along with some Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party members, has rallied behind
Ranariddh's recent outspokenness against Vietnam over alleged border infringements.
Political observers say Ranariddh appears to be posturing for political gain, intent
on showing Funcinpec's individuality from its Cambodian People's Party (CPP) coalition
partner. Ranariddh's comments, in the run-up to a Funcinpec congress this week, follow
recent strains between Funcinpec and CPP over issues such as the return of the January
7 public holiday.
Hun Sen has remained publicly subdued on the border complaints, urging peaceful negotiations,
but noted that if anyone wanted to "fight for Kampuchea Krom [southern Vietnam]...
I'll prepare coffins for them."
Meanwhile, King Norodom Sihanouk - in a widely publicized interview in the Cambodia
Daily which named Ranariddh as his preferred successor- sent an apparent warning
to Funcinpec to prepare its future strategy or be doomed to "disappear".
Funcinpec MP Ahmad Yahya this week urged Ranariddh to press for government recognition
of the banned KNP, regardless of whether Funcinpec wanted to align itself with the
"I believe the best way to keep the members of Funcinpec happy and to have a
future, Prince Ranariddh has to find a way to recognize KNP, and one day become a
coalition with KNP."
Yahya qualified his statement by adding that if Funcinpec members did not want an
alliance with KNP, then the party should remain in coalition with CPP.
"Funcinpec cannot win the  election alone. Either they make a coalition
with CPP or they make a coalition with KNP."
Hopes of a truce between Rainsy and Ranariddh - who was the key force behind the
former's expulsion from Funcinpec and the National Assembly last year - emerged after
an encounter with each other at Pochentong Airport while awaiting the King's arrival
on Mar 11.
Rainsy and KNP Secretary-General Khieu Rada raised their hands in a sampeah (traditional
Khmer greeting of respect) toward Ranariddh. They spoke together for several minutes
on the tarmac, while Hun Sen remained in the airport VIP lounge.
"It was the first time," another Funcinpec MP, who would not be named,
said of the airport scene. "I think everybody felt this was a sign of reconciliation."
On an alliance between Funcinpec and KNP, the MP said: "People don't talk about
that but if it really happened, people would be happy.
"Sam Rainsy says he is a Royalist too. If he makes some concessions, not only
for himself but for others...who knows?"
Rainsy said this week that the basis of the discussion between himself, Rada and
Ranariddh was that "I have much more in common with Prince Ranariddh than with
"If I had to choose between the two, if for one reason or another KNP cannot
be an alternative...I would choose Prince Ranariddh."
On any Funcinpec-KNP alliance, he said: "It's too early to say, but there are
hints, indications, that KNP and Funcinpec can move closer together.
"What we have in common is principles. The only difference is that Funcinpec
does not implement these principles fully.
"I think Hun Sen is very shrewd but we - Prince Ranariddh and myself - feel
that he is not sincere, not a true democrat. We have this in common."
Asked if he and Ranariddh could put the past behind them to work together again,
Rainsy said that Cambodia's development was "far beyond personal considerations".
"I think Prince Ranariddh knows me very well. He knows what is important is
Ranariddh's Funcinpec deputy, secretary-general Loy Sim Chheang, said: "We don't
like to create enemies. If every party works very well for the national interests,
we have to have discussions [with them]."
Chheang said Funcinpec was "not yet thinking about reconciliation" with
Rainsy. "But he is a Cambodian. At least we can say hello or good morning to
"But his political line is different from ours. He is very extreme. The democratic
regime and the democratic law is very difficult. It means we have to go step by step
and Rainsy, he likes to go fast."
Chheang noted that Rainsy had this week praised Ranariddh for his comments about
the Vietnam border, but also publicly predicted that Funcinpec would disintegrate.
"Sam Rainsy changes all the time....I don't know who Sam Rainsy's friends are."
Chheang, asked whether KNP should be recognized as being legal, said the party had
to meet the requirements of either the UNTAC electoral law or a new law yet to be
drafted by the government.
"I hope that if he respects at least the UNTAC law, the government will accept
his case. But I'm not sure that he respects it or not."
No-one is predicting any imminent alliance with KNP. To the contrary, a Funcinpec
party congress this week is likely to reaffirm a commitment to working with CPP.
But one close observer of politics said he wouldn't be surprised of a closer link
between Funcinpec and KNP in the future, "perhaps with a helping hand from friends."
He referred to "family connections" - Sam Rainsy's father-in-law, Nhiek
Tioulong, is one of the most senior advisers to Funcinpec founder King Sihanouk.
The observer said there was speculation about a so-called 'union of liberal forces',
a formal or informal alliance which could be created across a wide political spectrum.
There was a belief that people in several political parties who were opposed to certain
elements within the government had to band together to make an effective opposition,