The government is investigating alleged links between Funcinpec and a “private army,” warning that renegade forces in the deep northwest may attack polling stations, officials said this weekend.
The armies of former RCAF Division 12 commander Lay Virak and Khmer Rouge division 519 commander Dul Saroeun have come under scrutiny for alleged connections to Funcinpec, a senior army general said Sunday.
“Right now [the rebels] are launching activities in remote villages and sometimes they threaten people,” General Huot Chheang, deputy chief of operations for RCAF general staff, said. “The Ministry of Defense is worried that they will attack in an effort to hinder election day.”
The ministries of Interior and Defense are investigating “allegations” that Funcinpec is organizing a new division of troops, government advisers said.
“Yes it’s true that they are gathering troops, but I don’t want to say anything now because of the upcoming election,” Defense co-Minister Tea Banh said Saturday. “Everyone knows that Funcinpec has troops.”
Leng Sochea, information officer for the National Election Committee, confirmed Sunday that the Defense Ministry has warned the NEC of the investigation. “There are some documents relating the forming of the division,” Leng Sochea said, adding that evidence of weapons and equipment is involved as well.
But the allegations’ impact on the election remains unclear. The courts would determine whether there is a violation of Article 6 of the law on political parties, which outlaws parties from maintaining or forming armies or autonomous zones, Leng Sochea said Sunday.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah said the investigation is not the work of an independent government, but merely the latest in a series of CPP smear campaigns.
“They say right now they are investigating and they do not want to say anything to disturb the elections,” Tol Lah said. “But they did already by announcing it. I see this is as a kind of….provocation or creating a kind of story to put the blame on us.”
Troops loyal to Lay Virak, who left his post for the resistance when the coalition government ruptured last July, for months have been blamed for systematic attacks on villages in three far northwestern districts.
Accounts of the terror being wreaked in the districts have ranged from gang rape to village burning to extortion. Local police officials who in late March interrogated a captured renegade RCAF Division 12 soldier said the man admitted to trying to “prevent elections from running smoothly.”
Most recently, CPP-appointed RCAF generals have blamed Lay Virak for a June 18 attack in which about 100 heavily armed troops stormed Boeung Trakuon village in Banteay Meanchey. Up to six people, including two children and two Cambodian Mine Action Center deminers, were killed in the assault. About 60 houses near the market were razed.
Banteay Meanchey Governor Duong Khem blamed land and cow thieves for the attack.
Dul Saroeun and rebel division 519 have been connected with the wicked flanking attacks on RCAF troops that helped the resistance forces of general Nhiek Bun Chhay defend their northern border stronghold of O’Smach late last year.
Funcinpec officials for the most part have denied any connection between hard-line Khmer Rouge forces and forces loyal to deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh since troops went into resistance last July.
Lay Virak and Nhiek Bun Chhay, the former first deputy chief of RCAF general staff, commanded resistance forces alongside the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s against the government of the CPP’s forerunner, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking Friday in Kandal province, warned against using military might to enforce the election result. “There is no need to use forces to force Hun Sen to transfer power. It is very, very dangerous to use forces,” he told reporters.
One military analyst said Sunday that “it is possible but unlikely” that Funcinpec is organizing a new division. Rather, the investigation could be a method for the CPP to use Article 6 to negate a Funcinpec election victory, the analyst said. “But to do that you would need to come up with another force,” the analyst said.
Military analysts have said that the government lost the opportunity to legally disqualify the prince for allegedly harboring illegal forces when the NEC approved Funcinpec’s application to run in elections and RCAF reintegration negotiators agreed to change their term for Nhiek Bun Chhay’s troops from forces “of” Prince Ranariddh to forces “loyal to.” Subsequent efforts at reintegration under a fragile cease-fire have failed.
Funcinpec officials assert that while the troops in the north are loyal to the prince, they are part of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
(Additional reporting by Deutsche Presse-Agentur and The Associated Press)