Prime Minister Hun Sen said Sunday that Prince Norodom Ranariddh should be removed from the presidency of Funcinpec, and accused the prince of forming a political alliance to compete with the current government.
Hun Sen also announced that he would be firing four Funcinpec government officials: Senior Minister Serei Kosal, Justice Ministry Secretaries of State Tuot Lux and Kassie Neou, and Information Ministry Undersecretary of State Chea Chanboribo.
Either Tuot Lux or Kassie Neou will be fired for helping Prince Ranariddh seek a divorce, while the others are to be sacked for “disrupting the government,” Hun Sen said, without elaborating.
“It’s time to look for a new president. It cannot continue this way,” Hun Sen said of Prince Ranariddh in a blistering speech broadcast on radio and television.
Hun Sen accused the prince of disloyalty to the CPP/Funcinpec coalition government when he urged nationalists, democrats and royalists to unite Thursday in Kompong Chhnang.
“He could not unite his family-how can he unite the nation?” Hun Sen asked.
Hun Sen said that he would work with Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay instead of the prince.
He also warned that appeals by Prince Ranariddh and Prince Sisowath Thomico last week for retired King Norodom Sihanouk to lead Cambodia again were tantamount to plotting a coup.
“Recently, they demanded the government to be dissolved and offered power to the [retired] heroic King,” Hun Sen said. “You are preparing a coup against the Constitution. Be careful or Hun Sen will take measures against you,” he warned.
He also said that anyone who wants to dissolve the National Assembly should “prepare their coffins.”
If Norodom Sihanouk was to take power again, he would not be allowed to live in the Royal Palace and his government stipend would be abolished, Hun Sen said.
“The heroic King does not need this power. If he accepted it, CPP and I wouldn’t agree anyway because it would be a betrayal of the people’s will,” Hun Sen said.
Norodom Sihanouk issued a faxed statement on Sunday evening reiterating his loyalty to Hun Sen and adding that he had no desire to return to power.
“I know very well that even if, crazily and stupidly, I was following Thomico in his horrible project to ‘make me the new prime minister of the current Cambodia’ neither Samdech Hun Sen nor the CPP would allow me to take power,” he wrote.
“I have already, on numerous occasions, solemnly declared that I would support, strongly, Samdech Hun Sen as leader of the [government]…and the CPP, the best of our political parties,” he wrote.
Prince Ranariddh’s public affairs adviser Ok Socheat said the international community would be concerned by Hun Sen’s treatment of Funcinpec.
“The international community spent a lot of money in Cambodia,” he said. “I think the international community will think about the result of what is happening to Funcinpec and Cambodia.”
Ok Socheat added that support for Prince Ranariddh remains strong. “I think Funcinpec members will join the Prince again,” he said. “Our members still continue to support.”
Hun Sen said that the annual expenses of the Royal Palace are approximately $600,000 per year and warned that the salary for “a secretary of the King father who runs a political party” must be cut.
Prince Thomico, a former special secretary to Norodom Sihanouk who now heads the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, said he found Hun Sen’s comments peculiar.
“It’s strange to me. Just because I’m a party leader doesn’t mean that I can’t get a salary from the [retired] King,” he said. “It’s very strange that a few hundred dollars are so important to the prime minister.”
He declined to discuss Hun Sen’s remarks about Norodom Sihanouk, saying he had not been informed of them.
Norodom Sihanouk also wrote in his statement on Sunday that he would cut Prince Thomico’s salary of $600 per month and would not allow him reside within the Royal Palace compound.
Hun Sen said the sacking of the four Funcinpec officials would first have to be approved by the National Assembly, but instructed ministers not to give work to those officials while awaiting the vote.
Tuot Lux said that whether he is fired will be up to the National Assembly. But he added that given the large number of CPP lawmakers, it seems certain this will happen.
Kassie Neou said he was not aware of Hun Sen’s comments. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “All I can do is concentrate on my work.”
Chea Chanboribo said his dismissal was beyond his control.
“Appointing or removing officials is up to Samdech Hun Sen,” he said.
Serei Kosal could not be reached for comment.
Chea Vannath, former president of the Center for Social Development, said Hun Sen’s comments were insulting to the retired King.
“For me I feel that Cambodian politicians waste too much time battering each other,” she said.
“The ruling party should allow competition-they look like dictators,” she added.