F’pec Leader Wants Return of Reastr Niyum Officials Blast Foes in F’pec

In a surprise move, former Funcinpec resistance military leader Nhiek Bun Chhay ex­pressed unequivocal support Monday for the return of Reastr Niyum, whose key members refuted Prince Noro­dom Ran­ariddh’s party leadership after the July 5-6, 1997, factional fighting.

“Myself, personally—and speak­ing on behalf of the resistance for democracy—I would like to see unity,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said in an interview Mon­day at his home in Phnom Penh. “I would like to inform you very clearly that the people who resisted [in 1997] are [represented by] me, as their commander. I have no objection, and in fact, I am happy to see unity.”

Senator Nhiek Bun Chhay’s stated position appears to fly in the face of speculation by some Funcinpec officials that opposition to the merger would be strongest among royalist security officers who led the resistance.

“Those who speak against unity do not speak with the mouth of the resistance,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said. “It doesn’t come from my mouth….We pray to be united.” Nhiek Bun Chhay went on to de­scribe opponents of the re­union as “a small minority” and speculated some might be motivated by fears that “those who return will grab power in Fun­cinpec.”

Meanwhile, Defense Co-Min­ister Prince Sisowath Siri­rath, a member of Funcin­pec’s steering committee, refuted Nhiek Bun Chhay’s contention that only a minority of party officials oppose Reastr Niyum’s re-entry. “If the issue was put to a vote, I can assure you that [Reastr Niyum] would not be taken back,” he said. “And besides, Nhiek Bun Chhay is not the only well-respected resistance officer, there is also [First Deputy Chief of Staff] Khann Savoeun.”

Attempts to reach Khann Savoeun by telephone on Mon­day were unsuccessful.

One Asian diplomat who preferred not to be identified called the former resistance leader’s decision “politics as usual.”

“Let’s face it, [Prince] Ran­ariddh is Funcinpec, and vice versa,” the Asian diplomat said Monday. “If I were Nhiek Bun Chhay, I suppose I would do what was required of me….But I think if you were to ask him privately for a response, the answer would be different. After all, Khmer culture is still very much a culture of revenge.”

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)


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