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Siem Reap abuzz at Chay defection

Siem Reap abuzz at Chay defection

SIEM REAP - In Toan Chay's home town, everyone's talking about it, even if they don't

all agree. Governor Toan Chay's move to challenge party leader Prince Ranariddh is

big news.

"I think Toan Chay's decision is positive," declared one local. "He's

from Siem Reap, born around Angkor Wat, he has black skin. He's a real Cambodian

- not like those officials with white skin."

Other locals gave a mixture of supporting or dissenting views, but most were commonly

concerned that the political intrigue not lead to violence. One of the greatest concerns

among local citizens was that Phnom Penh quarrels would have a negative effect on

Siem Reap's tourism economy.

As for provincial officials, the Funcinpec military commander of the region, General

Khan Savoeun, was the most forthright in condemning Chay's defection.

"I used to call him 'Papa'," said Savoeun. "Now I won't call him 'Papa'

any more."

Reminiscing on the past - when both he and Chay were senior figures in the anti-Vietnamese

resistance on the Thai border - Savoeun declared: "We were at the border camp

together for so many years ... we fought many battles and many soldiers were handicapped

or killed.

"We were fighting for the Royal family and the King. I will remain loyal to

the royalists and to the King. Toan Chay can do what he wants, but for myself I will

only follow Prince Ranariddh and King Siahnouk."

Savoeun said that as far as he was concerned, Toan Chay was no longer Siem Reap governor.

"I will work with the provincial deputy governors, but I will expect to take

further orders from the replacement of Toan Chay. No one will let [Chay] become governor

in Siem Reap. We cannot allow him to become governor. If he comes to Siem Reap and

he says he is still the governor, it means that CPP is forcing it and they want to

make trouble."

Third deputy governor Kang Heang (CPP) said that while Toan Chay is out of the province,

first deputy governor Nou Som (CPP), would be the acting governor. He added that,

as far as he was concerned, Chay still has his position.

"Toan Chay is still considered governor of Siem Reap," he said. "His

problems are with the Funcinpec party. I don't know anything about [them]... I only

know that Toan Chay is still the governor of Siem Reap province - that's all."

Kim Chhai Hieng, vice secretary general of the local Funcinpec party branch, did

not lend immediate support to Chay, but claimed that his actions would probably help

resolve Funcinpec's internal problems.

"I think that Toan Chay's defection is a good thing, because it will force Ranariddh

to talk about these problems and perhaps a compromise will be reached among the MPs,"

he said.

Hieng remained hopeful that the situation would be resolved through reconciliation,

but added that if Chay garnered a significant amount of support, he would definitely

consider aligning himself with his faction.

While officials debated whether Chay has his job or not, many locals were concerned

about possible violence, noting recent troop movements in Siem Reap.

According to Gen Khan Savoeun, Chay gave orders to deploy military forces around

the town right before his political announcement.

"There are now 200-300 military men in the town. When someone forces problems

we have to prepare ourselves," Savoeun said, adding that he was recalling the

troops to their barracks.

"If the other side is mobilizing we have to do the same. [The forces] have to

respect me - I am in charge of Region Number 4. If they do not obey my orders something

bad will happen. If a commander chooses not to withdraw back to the base, I am not

afraid.

"When Toan Chay was the governor of Siem Reap ... he could order troop movements

anywhere within the province. But I am commander and I can no longer allow him to

do this," he said.

Savoeun added that after Chay announced his withdrawal from Funcinpec, he used CPP

military and police units as escorts back and forth from the airport. "This

never happened before at all. This is the first time this has ever happened,"

he said.

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