Talks Turn Into Waiting Game Over Location

Cambodia’s rival political forces continued to play a waiting game on crucial coalition talks Thursday, with neither side budging on their disagreement over a site for a summit. 

Analysts and diplomats agreed the prospects for compromise looked increasingly bleak. Mean­while, Cambodia is left without an internationally recognized government and vital foreign aid is being held up.

Council of Minister Co-Min­ister Sok An on Thursday ac­cused the opposition of “in­ter­na­tionalizing” the post-poll crisis by calling for a summit in Beijing.

“The organization of parliament and creation of a new government is an internal problem of Cambodia. We should not ‘internationalize’ the Cambodian matter at this time,” Sok An, also a high-ranking official in the ruling CPP, said at a school opening.

Funcinpec fired back that they could not expect a neutral atmosphere in Cambodia and pointed out that CPP officials had never before opposed meetings abroad.

“The Funcinpec request…does not mean that Funcinpec does not respect the independence and sovereignty of Cambodia,” a Funcinpec statement said. “On the contrary, we just want to find one neutral place for the purpose of solving this serious crisis.”

If there was any momentum for compromise generated at the last top-level summit in Siem Reap town, it evaporated two days later when a rocket ambush narrowly missed a CPP motorcade. CPP government officials described the Sept 24 attack as an attempt on Hun Sen’s life and the second prime minister was quick to state he suspected opposition leaders of involvement.

Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh and opposition ally Sam Rainsy left the country the next day and have not re­turned.

Even before the rocket attack, Hun Sen warned opponents not to discredit the current government, which was scheduled to dissolve Sept 24, five years after its birth. Speaking in Siem Reap town on Sept 23, Hun Sen said that if the current government remained in place anyone who called it illegal was at risk of being arrested. Sam Rainsy has said the current government is illegal.

The Funcinpec statement said Prince Rana­riddh’s continued absence is “dir­ectly related” to threats against the opposition.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kan­harith scoffed at such claims, saying it was part of a strategy to gain sympathy from the international community.

“If there was a threat against Sam Rainsy, how could he be free to leave the country and be an active member of a political party?” Khieu Kanharith asked.

The CPP won a majority in parliament in the disputed July 26 elections, but still needs Funcin­pec’s support to gain the two-thirds majority vote needed to confirm a new government. Fun­cinpec has refused to join a new coalition unless it is assured by the more powerful CPP it will have a meaningful role in Cam­bodia’s governance.

Mid-level negotiations were declared a failure last week.

A Cambodian political analyst said Wednes­day that Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party are using the only tools at their disposal—blocking the meeting of the Ass­embly and the formation of a government. “Once they give those up, they have nothing,” the analyst said. “That’s why they are not budging.” Their action denies the Hun Sen-led government aid and legitimacy.

In the meantime, the CPP is in charge. But a West­ern diplomat said the ruling party might be making a mistake in allowing the crisis to continue. “The CPP would be better in the long term to compromise now,” the diplomat said, adding that a few concessions to the opposition would not significantly hurt the CPP. “There is no doubt who is in control, whatever deals are made.”


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