The 1997 factional fighting that ended Funcinpec’s hold on the post of prime minister also halted multiparty politics in Cambodia, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said on Sunday, the sixth anniversary of the bloody July 5 and July 6 street fighting.
Addressing more than 1,000 Funcinpec supporters at Wat Chambok Meas in Kandal province, Prince Ranariddh also said the troops loyal to the CPP who deposed him as first prime minister in 1997 were guilty of betraying the democratic will of the Cambodian people.
Defying CPP requests to forget the fighting, the Funcinpec ceremony was the second public commemoration for royalist officials and supporters who were killed in 1997.
“The [July] event is the most bitter in Khmer history. It was the end of what we received after the 1993 election, which was democracy,” the prince said in a speech broadcast on royalist Ta Phrom radio.
“I believed that my deposition by arms on July 5 and July 6 was a betrayal of the peoples’ will as well as the end of the multiparty liberal regime, temporarily,” the prince added.
Prince Ranariddh also used Sunday’s ceremony to continue his acerbic attacks on the ruling CPP, which have dominated his campaign platform for the July 27 general elections.
In apparent reference to the CPP’s historic links with the Vietnamese government—which brought an earlier incarnation of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to power in 1979—the prince said Funcinpec was still working to liberate Cambodia from foreign domination.
“Funcinpec is striving to liberate the country from the yoke of a foreign country, from poverty and injustice,” he said.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Sunday the prince had “broken” an agreement with the CPP not to talk about 1997.
Asked whether the prince’s blistering criticism of the CPP would make another coalition with Funcinpec impossible, Khieu Kanharith said the CPP will have “many options” after polling day.
Speaking to several thousand supporters in Phnom Penh on Saturday, Prince Ranariddh denied allegations made several years ago that he sold the Phnom Penh governorship—which had originally been allocated to Funcinpec in a 1998 agreement between the CPP and Funcinpec—to former CPP governor Chea Sophara for $3 million.
The prince said his decision to give the governorship to the CPP was based on practicalities. Chea Sophara controlled the city’s purse strings, and if Funcinpec had held the post, Phnom Penh’s renovation would have been stymied, he claimed.
A Funcinpec governor of Phnom Penh would also have been arrested following such incidents as the massive fires that razed several squatter areas in the city in 2001, and the anti-Thai riots in January, he added.
“This means that I put the nation higher than personal, and the group interest,” the prince said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)