Streets Quiet on Eve of Siem Reap Talks

No Protests for First Time in Three Weeks

Prince Norodom Ranariddh is expected to meet with CPP Pre­sident Chea Sim later this week for talks aimed at ending the current political crisis, as tensions eased in the capital after three weeks of protests.

Not since fleeing the country one day before factional fighting erupted in the capital in July 1997 has Prince Ranariddh met face-to-face with a top CPP official to discuss politics.

“I cannot yet confirm the timing of the meeting but it will take place,” said Oum Sarith, an adviser to Chea Sim. “Personally I am optimistic. I think during this week we will find a way to resolve the problem.”

“We plan to have an audience with the King [today] in Siem Reap,” said Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah. “When we re­turn we will have a meeting with Chea Sim….We will take the op­portunity to explore and resolve the problem. We go with good faith and determination.”

The meeting between the two party presidents would be before representatives from the three main parties meet King Noro­dom Sihanouk together—a summit expected to take place before Sept 24, when the new National Assembly legally must open.

On a Voice of America broadcast aired Monday night and Tuesday morning, Prince Rana­riddh appealed for protesters to stop demonstrations and wait for negotiations. The prince ex­pressed his desire to see the violence and bloodshed stop and signaled a desire to take the political contest into a negotiating phase.

The message seemed to reach protesters—noticeably absent Tuesday from city streets, which have been frequently obstructed by demonstrators and police for the past three weeks.

“I think that all the illegal protesters, they understand now that the leaders are going to work to­wards a coalition,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu So­pheak.

Opposition parties have been protesting what they call election violations from the polls of July 26. At least two people have been killed in clashes with the police and many more injured since the government clamped down on unauthorized protests last Mon­day. The arrests of 29 demonstrators have been confirmed. Others are missing, opposition activists and rights workers have said.

Riot and military police sat idle in trucks Tuesday and smoked ci­garettes near Independence Mo­nu­ment. Workers planted grass in the field across from the Na­tional Assembly that opposition leaders once claimed in protest was their “democracy square.”

The opposition may have ag­reed to enter negotiations but the concerns of the demonstrators will not be forgotten, said Funcin­pec’s Mu Sochua.

“We will never forget the people have spoken,” she said. “Blood was spilt and we cannot forget that, otherwise we as de­mocrats will not be respected.”

She would not say if Funcinpec would insist that Second Prime Minister Hun Sen step down, as many protesters have demanded.

Prince Ranariddh and senior Funcinpec members will meet the King in Siem Reap today, party officials said, to get advice on how to end the political deadlock which has dogged the three parties elected to parliament in the July election. The prince hopes to meet Chea Sim either Thursday or Friday, said Prince Sisowath Sirirath, a Funcinpec steering committee member.

“When the prince and Chea Sim meet it will be more or less to give their seal of approval to what the two or three parties will agree on,” he said, “to finalize the details of the convening of the National Assembly and the coalition.”

However Tol Lah insisted the negotiations still had a long way to go before the coalition issue reared its head.

“This is a road map for the resolution of the crisis,” he said, re­ferring to audience with the King, the meeting with Chea Sim and a three-party summit with the monarch slated tentatively for next week. “We have to resolve problems related to the election, when we close that chapter we can convene the National Assem­bly, then we can go onto the third chapter, that’s a coalition.”

He confirmed Funcinpec has not altered its demand that the

9 million ballots printed be ac­counted for—there were only 5.4 million registered voters—and that the National Election Com­mittee use a different formula to determine the allocation of seats in the new parliament.

Chea Sim’s office also said Tuesday both Chea Sim and Hun Sen will meet the King with ot­her officials later this week. Ad­viser Oum Sarith appeared confident Funcinpec’s de­mands would not be an obstacle to successful talks.

“These technical issues will be discussed but we can find a way out,” he said. “I think that the main issue is convening the new National Assembly and the new government.”

Prince Ranariddh faces some pressure in his own par­ty to form a coalition government with the CPP, one RCAF general said Tuesday. He said the CPP was counting on at least four top Fun­cinpec politicians to deviate from the party line once the Na­tional Assembly opens and vote with the CPP. The general claim­ed they were all steering com­mittee members who hold secretary of state or minister positions.

Meanwhile, student leaders threatened Tuesday to continue protests despite calls from the op­position for an end to the de­mon­strations in the capital. Sy Rosi­vutha, a student representative from the Faculty of Law, said students had their own demands, including  Hun Sen’s resignation.

“If they allow Hun Sen to be Cambodia’s prime minister we will boycott university study and will continue to demonstrate eve­ry day,” he said, adding over 2,000 students could take part in another protest in the next few days.

(Additional report­ing by Mhari Saito, Saing Soen­thrith, Rachel Watson and Marc Levy)

 

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