Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sim Chheang balks while Huot returns to fold

Sim Chheang balks while Huot returns to fold

Sim Chheang balks while Huot returns to fold

The former Secretary-General of Funcinpec, Loy Sim Chheang, has launched a

blistering attack on Funcinpec leader and National Assembly president Prince

Ranariddh at a time when the party is trying to reunite splintered

elements.

Sim Chheang, the President of the New Society Party, said that

contrary to rumors flying around Phnom Penh, he has no intention of reconciling

his differences with Ranariddh. "I told the King already that I will not rejoin

the party."

He said the Prince did not obey the rule of law and cannot be

trusted as a leader.

He said today's Funcinpec does not follow the

original ideals of the party, which he thought included democracy and a respect

for law.

Sim Chheang said he cannot forgive the Prince's accusations that

he betrayed the party by staying in Cambodia during the 1997 coup.

Unlike

other top Funcinpec leaders who fled Cambodia during the coup, Sim Chheang said

he had a responsibility to stay behind to protect the interests of the party's 2

million followers - even though his life was at great risk.

"I don't know

how [Ranariddh] can call me a traitor," said Sim Chheang. "If you are the son of

the King, can you just say whatever you want?"

Before the coup Ranariddh

used to accuse Funcinpec members of being "puppets" and "traitors," but when he

returned after the coup, he didn't use these words, said Sim

Chheang.

"Why? Because he has become a puppet himself?"

Sim

Chheang said the Prince runs the party as a dictatorship, saying "The power of

the party is in the hands of a leader who surrounds himself with

'yes-men'."

"Funcinpec members say sooner or later I will return, but I

will not," said Sim Chheang, adding he does not understand why Ung Huot, another

top Funcinpec leader accused by Ranariddh of betrayal, is willing to return to

Funcinpec.

Ung Huot, who replaced Ranariddh as First Prime Minister after

the coup, said he is prepared to dissolve his Reastr Niyum Party (RNP), and

bring the members of the RNP back into the Funcinpec fold. The majority of the

RNP are keen to join Funcinpec, Huot said, "but it has to be decided by a party

congress."

"We believe that [Ranariddh] will make the decision soon for

the interest of the party. And we know which direction he will go because he has

carte blanche from his steering committee," he said.

"It's a matter of

time, and I think he will make the right decision and we will be all back

again," said Huot.

He told the Post that informal talks about

reconciliation with Funcinpec began last September and have continued

intermittently.

Huot said Ranariddh asked him to approach Sim Cheang

about the possibility of rejoining Funcinpec. But while Sim Chheang said he knew

of this request, Ung Huot has not broached the subject with him.

Huot

insists Ranariddh now realizes the Funcinpec members who stayed in Cambodia

after the coup took whatever actions were necessary to save their lives and gave

the Funcinpec supporters remaining in Cambodia a voice in the

government.

"I can speak for myself and a lot of my colleagues who stayed

behind in Cambodia. We were not betraying the party. We were not betraying the

Prince," said Huot, who took over the Prince's position of First Prime Minister

in the wake of the coup.

Sim Chheang said he takes any apologies made by

Ranariddh to the members he accused of treachery as seriously as he takes the

apologies of former Khmer Rouge leaders.

Nady Tan, Deputy President of

the RNP, said he expects Prince Ranariddh to release soon an official statement

inviting the RNP back to Funcinpec, and does not believe the move will create

problems within either party.

Huot acknowledges there are people on the

Funcinpec steering committee who do not support the reconciliation

moves.

"They spread rumors that [RNP] will go back and divide the party

again. This is foolish. If men like me return to Funcinpec, it's not going to be

destroyed. It's stupid to say that we will destroy Funcinpec," said

Huot.

Sources in Funcinpec say some high-ranking party members fear Huot

and Sim Cheang will be given powerful positions as a reward for rejoining the

party.

To these members Huot says: "Don't worry about it. We will only go

in to strengthen the party.

"I don't have any ambition for my personal

role - to be a minister or anything else. The rumor in the streets is that I

would be Minister of Education.

"A lot of people in the Ministry were

very happy to hear that because they want me back. They want to see me because I

did a good job in 1994.

"Nobody discussed it with me. Not Hun Sen nor

Prince Ranariddh, so I haven't heard officially."

Huot believes the CPP

is not concerned about a reconciliation between Funcinpec and the breakaway

parties.

"I met Hun Sen and I don't know whether he is telling the truth

, but he said he would be happy to see us together again. He knows my position

since the beginning and he feels sorry for me that Prince Ranariddh accused me

of being a traitor.

"[Hun Sen] even told the Prince that without [me],

Funcinpec would be in big trouble," said Huot.

A Funcinpec source said it

is not that Hun Sen feels goodwill for Funcinpec - the Prime Minister is simply

confident of his control and his ability to manipulate Funcinpec as he has done

in the past.

The source said former Funcinpec MPs Om Rasady and Ros

Chheang have already left the RNP and rejoined the party, but there is still

some opposition to overcome before Ung Hout can return.

"Actually the

people who split from Funcinpec wanted to return a long time ago, but because of

the people around the Prince [Funcinpec's steering committee] the reconciliation

has been delayed."

Most Funcinpec members and supporters want a

reconciliation between Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh, he said, "But no one can

advise the Prince to stop abusing Sam Rainsy. And it is hard to convince Rainsy

that it is best to rejoin Funcinpec.

He said although Rainsy and

Ranariddh are on different tracks - both are stubborn and confident that their

parties hold the key to Cambodia's political future - "The hope is the separate

tracks will one day meet."

Prince Ranariddh did not answer a written

request for an interview.

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