PM Reverses Takeover of 2 Ministries

Giving no clear explanation, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday reversed his decision to seize control of two Funcinpec-run ministries and brushed aside tensions that have mounted between the CPP and Funcinpec for more than a week.

Arriving in Phnom Penh after a three-day diplomatic visit to Laos, Hun Sen told reporters he had changed his mind about appointing acting ministers from his party to take charge of the Fun­cinpec ministries of education and justice—a highly controversial decision he made last week.

Hun Sen also said he had exchanged telephone calls with Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the two leaders agreed “to let the government work as normal and let the government continue its work.”

In a show of cross-party solidarity, a group of Funcinpec’s top officials were at Phnom Penh Inter­national Airport to greet Hun Sen and were seen chatting amicably with their CPP counterparts.

Included in the royalist party’s entourage were Justice Minister Neav Sithong and Pok Than, the secretary of state for the Edu­cation Ministry—the same two officials whose responsibilities Hun Sen had days earlier moved to usurp.

Only a day before, Funcinpec threatened to withdraw from its coalition government with the CPP over the power grab for the two ministries.

“You are asking why the Fun­cinpec ministers and secretaries of state came here,” Hun Sen addressed reporters.

“This is a conciliatory gesture between me and Samdech Krom Preah [Prince Ranariddh] to continue the work of the current government…and really to transfer that work to the new government, which will be born not long [from now],” he said.

He did not mention the reason behind the quick reconciliation of the two parties. He did, however, say that he and Prince Ranariddh had accepted King Norodom Sihanouk’s invitation Tuesday for an urgent meeting of the three main parties, including the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, in North Korea, where the King is staying.

The date for the meeting was not announced.

Though Hun Sen said the parties would attend, the CPP and Funcinpec asked the King to delay the meeting until the two sides finished negotiations to create a policy platform for the new government. The next negotiating session is scheduled for Friday.

A statement issued by Funcin­pec late Wednesday said the royalist’s secretary-general, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, would act as his party’s representative at the Pyongyang meeting. CPP spokes­man Khieu Kanharith did not say who would go on his party’s behalf, saying he was too busy to answer reporters’ questions Wednesday.

Approached by reporters, the group of Funcinpec ministers at the airport declined to comment.

“I’ve just come here as a minister,” Neav Sithong said, refusing to speak further. Pok Than also declined to answer questions.

Funcinpec’s spokesman Kassie Neou later corroborated Hun Sen’s account of the sudden switch in the parties’ attitude to­ward each other.

The two leaders spoke to each other by telephone, he said.

In addition to scrapping the appointments of acting CPP ministers, Hun Sen promised to reinstate some 17 Funcinpec officials that he removed from their government positions in September, Kassie Neou said. Those officials, who include four undersecretaries of state and several provincial governors, were dismissed when Hun Sen claimed they were not doing their jobs.

By reinstating the Funcinpec officials, the two parties would return to the original 50-50 power-sharing arrangement of the current coalition government, Kassie Neou said.

He said the King’s message was behind the sudden move for the two parties to cooperate with each other since “it alerted all parties to the King’s concern.

“Because of the royal encouragement by the royal message, we are ready to talk with a smile,” he said.

To help the process, Funcinpec issued a statement Wednesday evening, declaring all its ministers will once again attend regular meetings of the Council of Ministers that the royalists began boycotting shortly after the July 2003 elections. The ministers refused to go to the meetings, saying that during the political deadlock, the current government is merely a caretaker one and should not be allowed to make major decisions in the absence of a functioning National Assembly.

The next Council of Ministers meeting is expected to take place Friday.

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