Multi-Party Talks Make Little Headway

Assembly Opening Likely Delayed Again

A second round of critical multi-party talks ended Monday with little progress, and a likely further delay of the National Assembly’s opening.

“I don’t think we agreed on anything,” said Funcinpec spokes­man Pok Than, shortly after emerging from the 2 1/2-hour meeting at the Assembly Cabinet offices.

When asked whether that meant the parties essentially were at an impasse, he replied: “I think it’s close to that, yes.”

But, he added, “The good thing is that the at­mosphere is still cordial.”

The CPP negotiating team left the working session without commenting. But when contacted later by telephone, Sok An, co-Minister of the Council of Min­isters, said “there was one small [point of] progress. We have opened all the cards on the table now.”

He otherwise referred to the TV for the “full story:” The parties agreed to have their working session broadcast Monday night on the national television station, TVK.

The lack of progress comes as pressure grows for Cambodia to form a new coalition government that is regionally and internationally recognized.

At stake is re-admission into the UN, entry into the regional grou­ping Asean, and international aid that in the recent past has accounted for roughly half of Cambodia’s budget.

Delegates said they have agreed to meet again at 9 am Friday for what is scheduled to be a nearly daylong meeting in efforts to set the table for opening the Assembly.

Although the CPP won the ma­jority of parliamentary seats in the July 26 polls, it did not win the two-thirds necessary to form a government on its own.

At the request of senior government officials, King Norodom Sihanouk agreed to delay plans to fly to Beijing for a medical check-up in order that Cambodia would not be left without a head of state.

But it is unclear how long the King will stay in Phnom Penh, where he arrived Monday morning.

Hopes that Monday’s working session would pave the way for the Assembly to be convened Wednesday were apparently dashed when no progress could be made on deciding how top Assembly posts such as the president and two vice presidents would be divided.

“I don’t think the Wednesday [Assembly] meeting is possible,” Funcinpec’s Prince Sisowath Sirirath said after Monday’s session. “Perhaps next week.”

Talks stalled in part over the opposition’s continued review of election complaints, such as the allegation that the formula to allocate seats in the Assembly was illegally changed by the Na­tional El­ection Committee.

The formula issue is pivotal because the revised formula gives the CPP a critical parliamentary majority.

“We cannot go anywhere until we resolve” that issue, Pok Than said after the working session.

CPP officials have maintained that the issue should be debated in the Assembly.

National Assembly Dean Ing Kieth had pledged last Friday to convene the Assembly on Wednes­day, amid accusations by senior government officials that the opposition was dragging its feet in forming a government.

Ing Kieth couldn’t be reached for comment Monday evening.

The CPP previously had ag­reed to an opposition demand that the used and unused ballots be reconciled to see whether massive cheating occurred during the election.

The NEC has expressed its willingness to conduct the reconciliation of ballots, but hasn’t yet set a date for the task.

Pok Than said there was some “presentation of positions” Mon­day regarding Assembly issues, but no agreements were made. He added that both the CPP and Funcinpec want the National Assembly presidency.

CPP officials reiterated Mon­day the party’s desire that Chea Sim retain that position.

Prince Sirirath noted after the working session that in 1993 Funcinpec offered the position to the CPP and now it should be offered back to Funcinpec “for the sake of national reconciliation.” He didn’t name a specific candidate.

Pok Than said amnesties for resistance generals such as Nhiek Bun Chhay, and the issue of government threats against opposition activists such as Kem Sokha, were not discussed at Monday’s session.

Before the session, Funcinpec officials had indicated those issues would be raised.

An Asian diplomat said last week that he believes there’s an urgent need for a coalition so the government can have international legitimacy  and aid.

And, because Cambodians in large part are the victims of the deadlock, the diplomat predicted that pressure will build on Fun­cinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party to compromise.

But on Monday, opposition officials, who have contended that the government has used coercion tactics such as a recent travel ban on opposition members, didn’t sound like they felt pressure to concede anything.

“You know political issues take a long time to resolve, I think we have to move cautiously…,” said Prince Sirirath.

Said Pok Than: “It looks like it will continue for a while.”




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