BATTAMBANG/SISOPHON - Talks aimed at bringing in Khmer Rouge "moderates"
from the jungle were a deliberate policy to strengthen Funcinpec's position in negotiations
with CPP, according to Battambang's Funcinpec deputy governor Serey Kosal.
"If the CPP makes some project to become strong men, Funcinpec has a project
to make like this too," Kosal said last week.
Noting historical links between Funcinpec and the KR in northwestern Cambodia, he
said: "Who knows this area of the Thai border? Funcinpec. You can't talk to
these [KR] people in just one or two days. We've been talking to them for a very
However, he said that while CPP was afraid of a Funcinpec-KR alliance, "we are
not another part of the Khmer Rouge... but this is politics."
He added that good relations between Funcinpec and CPP were still necessary to present
a united face to the KR.
"If we want to make the Khmer Rouge come to participate in politics, participate
in the elections, we must show too that there is good solidarity between CPP and
"If there is not a good relationship, they will not come."
Kosal said that when he was talking about CPP, he was talking about the party as
a whole - not any single individual.
He acknowledged that CPP's Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen, was unhappy at the KR
situation and at a group of senior Funcinpec officials.
Kosal identified himself, Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay, co-Minister of Defence
Tea Chamrath and Interior Ministry under-secretary Ho Sok as being the key targets
of Hun Sen's ire.
Several of them - particulary Bun Chhay - have spear-headed Funcinpec bids to negotiate
with the KR moderates.
They have been supported by other Funcinpec military commanders in the northwest,
and former KPNLF officers who - along with the KR - served in the anti-Vietnamese
resistance of the 1980s.
On Aug 24, Funcinpec held a meeting in Battambang attended by 1,347 officials that
people like Kosal still refer to as former chiefs and leading figures of the resistance.
Included in the meeting were Funcinpec police commanders of five western provinces.
"Everyone pledged solidarity around Prince Norodom Ranariddh," Kosal said.
In this part of the country, the power behind the military belongs to Nhek Bun Chhay,
who has used his contacts in the former resistance to great effect in the region.
"The Funcinpec army respect Nhek Bun Chhay very much. He is a strong commander,"
"We owe everything to Bun Chhay," said a former KPNLF officer now based
on the Thai border in Poipet. "He didn't forget us, his former resistance friends."
The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces' deputy chief of staff, Bun Chhay has for weeks
been in Banteay Meanchey's capital of Sisophon, from where he is leading what CPP
fears is an alliance of KR moderates and Funcinpec and former KPNLF military.
Bonded by friendship and family ties, Bun Chhay has been instrumental in enticing
KR breakaway troops to a negotiating table primarily dominated by Funcinpec.
Ensconced in a small military compound on a hill in downtown Sisophon is Bun Chhay
and the man he calls "uncle" - KR Division 519 chief Sun Su (also known
as Ta Su) - who is in fact his first cousin once removed.
The pair, guarded by a mix of Funcinpec and KR troops, spent much of their time in
recent days flying to meetings around the northwest in Bun Chhay's Mi-17 helicopter.
Shuttling between Sisophon, Battambang to Phnom Malai and other KR breakaway positions
- and occassionally to report to Phnom Penh - Bun Chhay appears firmly in control.
It remains unclear just how long Bun Chhay had been negotiating with the KR but,
since the KR split became public, he and Sun Su have been persuasive negotiators.
All or part of seven KR divisions are now negotiating; the pair appear confident
that there will be more soon.
Neither Bun Chhay nor Sun Su are particularly talkative with journalists, but Su,
in a brief interview last week, made it plain that he had not defected to the government.
"I am still a Khmer Rouge soldier," said Su, who lost his right arm fighting
Lon Nol troops in 1973.
"All of us separating still consider ourselves Khmer Rouge."
But Bun Chhay, who has also given arms and ammunition to at least one of the break-away
divisions, denied politization of the peace process.
"The sentiment that used to exist between us before is a different matter,"
he said of the KR and Funcinpec.
"Those who break away from the hardliners want to align themselves with the
national community, not this political party or that political party."