Violent clashes reminiscent of the 1997 factional fighting were narrowly averted the night before CPP President Chea Sim abruptly left for Thailand last month, near the end of the nearly yearlong political deadlock, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Tuesday.
Speaking openly for the first time about the mysterious events last month that preceded the formation of a new government, Prince Ranariddh said he and Prime Minister Hun Sen spent a tense night July 12.
Though he did not elaborate who was behind the dispute, nor what the dispute was about, he said he and Hun Sen managed to ease the situation.
“On July 12, there was a tense situation. If there was no [act of] prevention, it would have turned into big bloodshed that would have been worse than in 1997,” Prince Ranariddh said during a ceremony at Funcinpec’s Phnom Penh headquarters.
“If we could not have prevented [the violence], I would have been beheaded first and then Funcinpec officials and then Sam Rainsy Party members,” he said, without disclosing who had threatened such attacks.
By the morning of July 13, armed police had surrounded the Senate compound and Chea Sim was flown to Bangkok under police escort, raising widespread speculation of a rift in the CPP between those loyal to the aging party president and followers of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In the absence of Chea Sim, 72, who is also Senate president, Funcinpec’s Nhiek Bun Chhay, the second deputy secretary-general to the Senate, signed a controversial addition to the Constitution, which allowed for a quick end to the government deadlock.
In the end, Prince Ranariddh said: “We can offer safety and security to the nation.”
CPP and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment on Prince Ranariddh’s announcement Tuesday. The CPP has maintained that the party remains unified and that Chea Sim went to Thailand for health reasons.
After his return to Phnom Penh, however, Chea Sim told reporters he was in good health and has since kept silent about the events leading up to the formation of the government.
In Tuesday’s ceremony at the royalists’ headquarters, Funcinpec officially welcomed into its fold more than 50 defectors from the Sam Rainsy Party, including opposition Cabinet chief Phi Thach. Funcinpec initially estimated there would be more than 100 defectors.
Many of those who joined Funcinpec Tuesday will be granted government jobs, ranging from village chief to secretary of state positions, Prince Ranariddh said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is in Beijing this week, could not be reached for comment. He is expected to return this morning.
At the ceremony, Prince Ranariddh also announced that former Women’s and Veterans Affairs minister Mu Sochua has resigned from his party.
“I am sad to lose her because she has done her best work to serve the country,” Prince Ranariddh said.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Mu Sochua said she had sent a resignation notice to the Funcinpec president, but declined to comment further.
Prince Ranariddh said he is scheduled to go to Beijing Sept 1, where he will meet his father, King Norodom Sihanouk. Hun Sen will follow to Beijing on Sept 4, he said.