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Royalist defectors head for Rainsy

Royalist defectors head for Rainsy

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Mourners kneel at the bier of Om Radsady at Wat Botum on February 21.

TWENTY generals from the fractured Funcinpec party will defect to the opposition

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) by the end of March, two Funcinpec party members have told

the Post.

They would be joined by several dozen lower ranking royalist officers, said General

Khieng Savorn, who is one of those leaving. Savorn is a former member of the Funcinpec

resistance and currently deputy chief of staff in the intervention headquarters unit

at the Ministry of Defense.

He said his defection should be seen as a warning to party president Prince Norodom

Ranariddh that the former resistance fighters were no longer loyal to the prince.

Savorn said the defectors would join the SRP over the next few weeks. An official

announcement will be made at the opposition's annual congress which is scheduled

for March 28-29.

His move comes on the heels of another high profile defection, that of Kieng Vang,

the secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior (MoI). Vang confirmed in late

February that he would stand as an opposition MP in Kampot province in the July election.

As the campaign season approaches, rumors are rife that at least nine MPs and three

senators will leave Funcinpec and join the opposition. The party has been in trouble

for more than a year since it was trounced in the local elections in February 2002.

Signs of in-fighting have been acutely apparent since then.

Vang was the first high-ranking official to leave Funcinpec. He said his decision

was prompted after General Khan Savoeun failed last year in his bid to be nominated

by the National Assembly as co-Minister of Interior.

Savoeun, who is popular with the former resistance fighters, announced he would stand

against the incumbent co-Minister of Interior You Hokry. Hokry, who is not well-liked

by the resistance, was accused of nepotism and corruption, charges he denied.

Vang said numerous former members of the anti-Communist resistance who had fought

on the Thai border in the 1980s were suffering as they had no work and could not

earn any money.

"Speaking frankly, I have been loyal to the monarchy since 1979, but I am no

longer happy with Prince Ranariddh. He has not dealt honestly with these problems

and has failed to provide justice for the former resistance," said Vang. "Instead

my heart hurts for these police and soldiers, so I had to leave."

Another royalist who has confirmed he will defect is Vong Kimhan, an adviser at the

Ministry of Defense. He told the Post on February 27 that the 20 generals who will

leave had lost confidence over rampant corruption, nepotism and divisions within

the party.

They were angry that many former Funcinpec resistance fighters were without jobs,

not on the government payroll, and had not been helped by the party leadership.

"I find that Funcinpec has betrayed the original royalist thinking," Kimhan

said. "The royalists used to promise to fight corruption and illegal immigration,

and protect national sovereignty."

He also complained that many overseas Khmers had returned and bought high-ranking

positions in the coalition government.

"Funcinpec now is made up of individuals who run a good business inside the

party, collect money, but will then leave the country again," Kimhan said. "They

don't think about the interests of the royalist party and the nation."

Funcinpec has not announced a strategy to mollify those threatening to leave. Ranariddh

told reporters on February 25 he had not received any information from people talking

of defecting.

"It is down to the karma of those who walk away from Funcinpec, leaving the

gentle party for the fiery party," Ranariddh said. "[Those individuals]

do not dare to tell me and don't request to officially resign from the party."

SRP senator Meng Rita, who is also the party's deputy secretary-general, claimed

that nine Funcinpec legislators and three senators were in discussions with Sam Rainsy

over positions they would get if they were to defect.

"We can only identify by name those Funcinpec members wishing to join our party

if they permit us to tell the public," Rita said. He told the Post that among

those who had given permission were: legislator Sao Ngin; Mak Sophy, an under-secretary

of state at the Ministry of Rural Development; and Chear Chun, a former advisor to

Nhiek Bun Chhay, the vice-president of the Senate.

The three parties will hold their annual congresses within a month of each other.

Funcinpec will meet on March 22-23, while the CPP will gather on April 24. The three

will focus on their strategies in the lead up to the campaign. The election is scheduled

for July 27.

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