Serey Kosal, a top Funcinpec official convicted in March of conspiring with the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the government, returned to Phnom Penh this week for the first time since the factional fighting of July 1997.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s former security adviser, who was granted a royal pardon as part of the recent summit agreement, appeared at a Funcinpec party meeting Tuesday afternoon after traveling overland from the northwest border town of Poipet, party officials confirmed.
“I think it’s a good litmus test of whether the coalition business is going to hold together, if they’re left alone and not mistreated or harassed,” said a military analyst of the return of Serey Kosal and the expected arrival of other resistance leaders.
Travel documents also are being prepared for resistance leader Nhiek Bun Chhay to return to Phnom Penh, a Funcinpec official said Wednesday.
Funcinpec officials on Wednesday were tightlipped about Serey Kosal’s whereabouts in Phnom Penh. And his visit is expected to be short. A Funcinpec Cabinet official said Serey Kosal is scheduled to leave for Bangkok today.
He is here “just to get things going,” said Noranarith Ananda, the prince’s Cabinet spokesman, declining to elaborate.
It was unclear Wednesday afternoon what role, if any, Serey Kosal, former Battambang first deputy governor, will have in the new coalition. Several Funcinpec officials indicated Wednesday that it had not been decided.
Soeung Rithisak, a general in the RCAF high command, said he heard Serey Kosal might land a job as a provincial governor or deputy governor.
“From the information I received, Serey Kosal will become an adviser” to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said Dien Del, retired Funcinpec general and newly sworn-in Funcinpec parliamentarian. The military analyst said that scenario is most likely.
The outspoken and often controversial Serey Kosal was part of a fiercely loyal group of Funcinpec commanders that Prime Minister Hun Sen described after the bloody street battles of 1997 as “extremists” wanted most by the government.
Others in that group included Nhiek Bun Chhay and Chao Sambath, a former intelligence officer who was executed following the bloody July 1997 fighting. The UN documented more than 40 political killings, almost all of them of Funcinpec officials, within weeks of the fighting.
Those loyal to the prince insist the July 1997 fighting was a coup d’etat by Hun Sen to oust copremier Prince Ranariddh. However, Funcinpec had been steadily building up its military force in the run-up to the fighting—the prince said it was to protect against a CPP attack. Serey Kosal is widely believed to have been one of the advisers who encouraged the military buildup.
In October 1997, Serey Kosal was identified as leading resistance forces at Samlot district along the Thai border.
In March 1998, Prince Ranariddh, Nhiek Bun Chhay, Serey Kosal and the late Chao Sambath were convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government for their role in the run-up to the fighting in 1997. Serey Kosal got a 20-year sentence.
In February 1997, deadly clashes between Funcinpec and CPP factions of the armed forces in Battambang led to Serey Kosal’s suspension as first deputy governor and a visit by a top Defense Ministry and RCAF negotiating team from Phnom Penh.
Serey Kosal claimed the CPP troops went out of their way to taunt soldiers from the 6th Battalion, who were mostly loyal to Funcinpec.
(Additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)