o’smach commune, Oddar Meanchey province – The likeness of King Norodom Sihanouk, printed on a large poster celebrating Cambodia’s independence, is the first thing a visitor sees walking through the entrance of Mam Oeun’s small home.
For Mam Oeun and hundreds of other former Funcinpec loyalists who fought CPP troops here in 1997 and 1998, the King personifies the party and the nation. Even if the loyalists are disappointed with their living conditions and feel their lives have been ignored by the party, they say they remain faithful.
There are approximately 200 landless families here living in roadside shacks. Many were kicked off their land just a few hundred meters from the Thai border two years ago to make way for the construction of two casinos and a large market.
Former Funcinpec military commanders Nhiek Bun Chhay and Khan Savoeun “never treated the people poorly like this,” said Chan Rath, the daughter of a man who fought for Funcinpec in the 1980s.
Groups of former fighters have traveled to Phnom Penh several times to protest in front of the National Assembly. A visit by top RCAF official Kun Kim, who serves as an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, was an attempt to settle the problem. But commune residents say their new land has not been cleared of land mines.
Provincial Governor Lay Virak, who led the Funcinpec military resistance in 1997 and 1998 along with Nhiek Bun Chhay and Khan Savoeun, said he is aware of the discontent among former fighters.
“There is not much we can do. We just finished the war, so we can only do step by step,” he said.
Mam Oeun says, “The party leaders have forgotten us,” Mam Oeun says. But when asked if he is angry with Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Nhiek Bunn Chhay or Khan Savoeun, he offers little criticism.
“They were our friends, and now they are officials, so they stay very far away,” is all he will say.
Like many former resistance fighters—most of whom now live with their families in O’Smach’s Chrey village—Heng Sokhorn said he voted for Funcinpec in the February commune council elections and will do so again in the 2003 national elections.
The King and the Queen “are our parents, even if they ignore us,” he said.
O’Smach commune was carried by the CPP in the February balloting. The new council has three CPP members, two Funcinpec members and two Sam Rainsy Party members.
Funcinpec councilman Or Sophat knows party members here have lost their faith in Phnom Penh-based Funcinpec leaders. He also knows that if Funcinpec had won all of the votes that went to the Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec would be in control of the commune.
He said last week that he supports Khan Savoeun, who has been leading an effort to reorganize the party’s leadership.
“If we don’t take action now, it will threaten our performance in 2003,” Or Sophat said.