Prime Minister Hun Sen has been named sole president of the National Authority on Border Affairs, according to a draft amendment to the 1996 royal decree establishing the body that was sent to the National Assembly on June 17.
The draft amendment places Hun Sen in charge of the authority, which is now empowered to coordinate and resolve border issues with neighboring countries, plan border development, report to the Supreme National Council on border issues and gives the president power to sign border pacts with neighboring countries.
The amendment was stamped and signed on June 16 by Nady Tann, secretary-general of the government, and bears the name of King Norodom Sihamoni, though not his signature, according to a copy of the draft obtained on Monday.
Nady Tann declined to comment on Monday and Chhea Horn, secretary of state of the Royal Palace, referred questions to the Council of Ministers.
Local newspapers have given heavy coverage to the amendment that gives the prime minister many of the powers some had sought for the recently formed Supreme National Council on border affairs, which is headed by retired King Norodom Sihanouk.
Var Kimhong, head of the government’s border commission, said on Monday that the media had misunderstood the issue and had mistakenly hyped its importance.
Var Kimhong said the draft was simply to update the 1996 decree as the original recognized then co-Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen as co-presidents of the body.
“There is no new authority, only [an] amendment to the old royal decree,” Var Kimhong said.
The new decree, he said, was drafted simply to reflect the fact that there is now only one prime minister, and that ultimate authority on border issues rests solely with Hun Sen.
The prime minister in recent speeches has criticized the Supreme National Council on border affairs, suggesting that some were seeking to establish a second government through the council.
Over the weekend Hun Sen also warned would-be rebels and a “Sisowath royalist” who intended to use the border issue to threaten his power to “prepare coffins.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy wrote in an e-mail Monday that the national authority decree was amended to check the supreme national council.
“Last week’s revamping of the National Authority on Border Affairs is intended to reduce and minimize the role of the Supreme National Council on border affairs,” Sam Rainsy wrote.
Pang Sokhoeun, president of the Students’ Movement for Democracy, said news of the amendment only further muddies the waters on the border issues adding that there are too many authorities.
“Who is really responsible [for border issues]?” he asked.
(Additional reporting by Michael Cowden)