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Sirivudh quits, hits out at govt

Sirivudh quits, hits out at govt

F OREIGN Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh condemned his government for war mongering, moving away from democracy and breaking from the policies of King Norodom Sihanouk after abruptly resigning on Oct 23 .

The move comes in the wake of the cabinet reshuffle which ousted respected and popular Finance Minister Sam Rainsy. Sirivudh's resignation also speaks of a major rift within the ruling Funcinpec party, in which he serves as secretary general.

To the shock of gathered ambassadors and foreign ministry officials, Sirivudh announced his intention to resign on the tarmac of Pochentong airport on his arrival from an overseas trip.

"A minister must shut his mouth or leave," he told the Post in an interview on Oct 24, "Now I must leave because my conscience doesn't allow me to stay. We must show in this country there are some honest people, that there are matters of principle."

He lambasted his party for drifting away from the policies on which they campaigned and won last year's elections.

"We claim we are Royalists, but in general everything that the King has asked for has not been implemented or taken into consideration," he said, "I would like to achieve national reconciliation like His Majesty. I am not pro-Khmer Rouge. But without peace, we will have no stability and without stability we will have no democracy. We must let the National Assembly play a real role. Why have you [the international community] spent $2 billion [on the Untac operation]?"

Funcinpec leader and Co-Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his coalition partners from the Cambodian People's Party have rejected several initiatives from the King in recent months, greatly marginalizing the monarch's previously considerable influence in state affairs.

Sirivudh, like Rainsy, publicly pledged loyalty to Funcinpec and Ranariddh. But relations between the princes have in reality hit rock bottom.

Sirivudh refused to call on the Prime Minister upon his arrival in Phnom Penh on Oct 23 or officially submit his resignation, despite making public attacks on the government. "I don't need this illusion of power," he said, "I will still help the party. Help it reorganize."

Ranariddh has gone on the offensive against political opponents in recent months, threatening to expel party members who vote against the Prime Minister on issues within the National Assembly. This week, Ranariddh was responsible for leaking information to government controlled media accusing Rainsy of treason and secretly collaborating with the Khmer Rouge. While diplomats and government officials dismissed the allegations against Rainsy, they come as the government has increased a campaign against critics.

Ranariddh has threatened to close down human rights organizations and newspapers that criticize the government in recent weeks, and many government officials say that they have been threatened with expulsion from the party and government if they dare disagree with government policy on key issues.

Both Rainsy and Sirivudh are known to be unhappy with Ranariddh's inability to wrest power from the Cambodian People's Party, which lost the election but continue to hold much of the real power in the security services and most of the bureaucracy.

Sirivudh said: "We need real stability. The National Assembly should be independent and normal. The role of the army should be small. I know that in the army, there are some people who hate me. I suspect that they maintain the war to make a profit.

"They don't want peace. Just like the Khmer Rouge. The army should not play too much of a role. They harass the Prime Ministers, cut logs, smuggle," added the half-brother of the King said.

Sirivudh played down speculation that he and Rainsy would form a new party." I have no intention of forming a new party. Not yet," he said.

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