Parties Agree To Truce Over 1997 Fighting

Battle scenes filled Cambodian television screens on Tuesday night as the ruling-CPP flexed its media muscle and went ahead with threats to broadcast an hour-long documentary that squarely laid the blame for the 1997 factional fighting on Funcinpec.

Aired once on all major television channels and twice on the pro-CPP Bayon and Apsara stations, the documentary was billed as retaliation for claims by the royalist party earlier this week that the Hun Sen government started the fighting.

The broadcast caused a flurry of telephone calls on Tuesday night as viewers tuned in to what Funcinpec officials and at least one foreign diplomat branded “threatening” CPP propaganda.

Despite a buzz of speculation on Wednesday over the apparent tense state of relations between the government partners, a CPP official and a Funcinpec official said Wednesday the parties had sorted out their differences.

“Last night the two parties agreed to stop attacking each other starting from midnight,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday.

“If both sides keep their promise, the coordinating committees for both parties will meet in the near future to settle all issues,” he said.

Though declining to name the “top leader” from Funcinpec who agreed to the truce, Khieu Kanharith said “both sides have enough wisdom to withdraw and step down and talk to each other.”

The Ministry of Information secretary of state also said he had ordered the blanket television coverage of the CPP documentary, but denied such action amounted to CPP control of the broadcast media. The government needed to clarify its position, he said, adding that the broadcast did not bode ill for equal media access for political parties during the election campaign period.

“Funcinpec attacked us openly. The government had to react,” Khieu Kanharith said.

Funcinpec co-Minister of Defense Sisowath Sirirath said on Wednesday the truce was called after Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh spoke with Prime Minister Hun Sen by telephone on Tuesday night.

Prince Ranariddh, who is also president of the National As­sembly, is attending a conference in Portugal, party officials said.

“Everything is normal,” Prince Sirirath said. “It’s not a surprise to show the [the documentary] on television because it is history.”

Several royalist party members disagreed.

Contacted after the broadcast, Serey Kosal, an adviser to the prince, said he had chosen not to watch the program.

However, royalist supporters across the country had contacted him about the program, Serey Kosal said.

The program proved that the CPP controls the country’s broadcast media, Serey Kosal said.

“What about democracy? What about the election in 2003? Now [US Secretary of State] Colin Powell must see the real situation before the election,” he said.

Powell is scheduled to visit Cambodia as part of the Asean Re­gional Forum and other Asean meetings scheduled from June 16 to June 18.

Funcinpec lawmaker Dien Del, a veteran commander of resistance forces on the Thai border in the 1980s, said he watched the documentary, but would have preferred not to.

“You broadcast this, what else do you want? Do you want to threaten [Funcinpec]? You cannot oppress any [people] as you wish. Look at Iraq.” Dien Del said Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Serey Kosal was unrepentant, saying Funcin­pec would retain its stance on the events of 1997.

“We do not retreat. We still go ahead legally,” Serey Kosal said.

“[The CPP] have the video cassette, and we have the video cassette. [Funcinpec’s] cassette is clearer than the CPP cassette, but we don’t have television. If we had money we would hire CNN to broadcast it,” he said.

Som Chhaya, general manager of the recently launched CTN channel, said Wednesday that his station broadcast the program following a “request” from the Cambodian TV Association.

“Most members of the association [agreed to broadcast]. That’s why we follow the majority,” Som Chhaya said.

Mao Ayuth, director of the as­sociation, declined to comment Wednesday.

CPP RCAF General Neang Phat, president of the board of directors of TV5, said the CPP documentary showed the true events of the July 1997 fighting.

(Additional reporting Nhem Chea Bunly and Pin Sisovann)

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