Ranariddh Blasts Kem Sokha, US Institute

National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Wednesday accused former Funcinpec senator Kem Sokha and the US-based International Republican Institute of having “dreams” of destroying his party and overthrowing Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“They are allowing Sam Rainsy to destroy Funcinpec in order to pull a number of Funcinpec members to strengthen the Sam Rainsy Party,” the prince said, referring to the IRI.

The institute funneled a $450,000 grant to Kem Sokha so he could open this week the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, which aims, among other things, to build a radio station or to put together broadcast programs to reach out to Cambodians ahead of next year’s scheduled national elections.

Prince Ranariddh claimed Wednes­day the group was merely fronting a scheme by US Re­publican Party members to destabilize the government. The first part of the plan was to weaken Funcinpec before going after Hun Sen and his CPP, the prince said.

“In the second stage, they will let Sam Rainsy take power in the Kingdom of Cambodia. I think it is a dream,” he said.

Kem Sokha, who once chaired a human rights committee in the Senate, left both the legislature and Funcinpec last month, claiming the CPP had tried to assassinate him. He also blasted the royalists, saying they were “much too weak.”

The institute, meanwhile, has floated in and around Cambodia for years but rarely has taken center stage in such a fashion. On its board sit leading members of the US Republican Party, including Senator Mitch McConnell, a sworn foe of Hun Sen—whom McConnell sees as a Communist dictator.

It is this affiliation that has drawn fire.

In September, McConnell issued a statement in which he called on the administration of US President George W Bush to force a “regime change” in Cambodia.

The opening of Kem Sokha’s new center comes a week after McConnell’s party swept to victory in the US’ midterm congressional elections, taking full control of the government.

McConnell is in line to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings for the US government. McConnell’s congratulatory letter to Kem Sokha was written on committee’s stationary.

In spite of his harsh words for the institute, Prince Ranariddh said he would ignore it and instead focus on building his own party’s “structure in the villages, communes, districts and provinces.”

But Kem Sokha’s plans are already facing other resistance. The government has no intention of granting Kem Sokha a broadcasting license, spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday.

“We’ve only got one frequency left for the National Assembly. He can buy time from private stations to broadcast for his center,” Khieu Kanharith said of the station.

Even if there were waves available, the center still would not get them, Khieu Kanharith said. Too many NGOs have come around promising to be neutral but have gone on to become the puppets of political parties, he said.

Access to the media is shaping up to be one of the critical issues of next year’s scheduled elections. Human rights groups and election monitors have for years criticized the government for using broadcast media for its propaganda, while denying minority parties equal time.

“They don’t even have to talk about their political parties. But when they show up on the TV screen, they gain political interests,” Committee for Free and Fair Elections Monitoring Supervisor Mar Sophal said.

Although the government is fairly open to the print media, the circulation of the press is minimal. The real way to reach Cambodians, observers say, is through broadcast.

Sources familiar with Kem Sokha’s US grant, which originated with the US Agency for International Development, said Kem Sokha’s reputation as a human-rights crusader along with the timing of his resignation made him an ideal candidate for funding.

“We have the same goals,” IRI spokeswoman Johanna Kao said.

Kem Sokha on Wednesday said his opponents were trying to change the subject.

“Parties and the government will not get any benefits from our center if they abuse human rights,” he said.

The suggestion that he is under the control of anyone is an insult, Kem Sokha said.

“Our center is here to upgrade human rights and the democratic process. We are not biased,” he said.

Kem Sokha refused to name the stations and radio groups he has been talking to for fear the government “will threaten the owners not to sign a contract” with the human rights group.

That he has already encountered such trouble, though, is proof of the need for his group, Kem Sokha said.

“The government doesn’t want to offer a license to my radio station?” he asked. “So, it shows they aren’t willing to offer freedom of speech to civil society and the people.”

(Additional reporting by Bill Myers)



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