The US government expressed concern Sunday over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s removal of 17 Funcinpec government officials last week and urged the premier to form the new government in accordance with Cambodia’s Constitution.
“We are concerned that this action could be a form of pressure on the Funcinpec Party,” Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the US State Department, said in a statement.
“The United States encourages Prime Minister Hun Sen to respect the right and responsibility of all parliamentary parties to participate in the formation of a coalition government that is in conformance with the Cambodian constitution,” he said.
But Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the ruling party, dismissed the US statement on Monday.
“It is not their business,” he said. He added that Hun Sen’s decision was not intended to intimidate Funcinpec members.
“This is Cambodian law,” he said.
On Friday, Hun Sen told reporters he had signed an order to remove four undersecretaries of state, 10 district and provincial officers, and three diplomatic officers, all of whom are members of Funcinpec. The reason for their dismissal, he said, was that they had failed to do their jobs following the July 27 election.
Khieu Kanharith added that some of them had failed to remain neutral, as civil servants are required to do.
But on Monday, several of those officials said they had not received formal notice of their removal.
“Nobody talked to me,” said Noranarith Anandayath, undersecretary of state for the Council of Ministers. He said he learned of his dismissal through rumors and news reports. For now, he said, he will continue his duties.
Noranarith Anandayath added that he was not concerned about losing his position, saying Hun Sen’s latest move only underscored the instability of the current government.
“I see that this government does not know what it’s doing,” he said.
Takeo First Deputy Governor Pall San and Chay Salong, governor of Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, said they, too, would continue their jobs until they receive official notice.
Khieu Kanharith said the government was still working through the necessary paperwork to remove the Funcinpec officials and had not yet decided on their replacements.
Funcinpec officials said Monday that Hun Sen’s decision was a violation of Funcinpec’s 1998 agreement with the CPP, under which the parties formed the current coalition government. The agreement contained an article stipulating that the two parties would not interfere with each other’s internal affairs or fire each other’s members, the officials said.
But the Funcinpec officials said they would not seek legal recourse, nor would they make a formal complaint.
“We cannot look for justice in Cambodia,” Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Ok Socheat said.
Instead, he said, some Funcinpec officials will urge the party’s newly elected parliamentarians not to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the National Assembly, scheduled to take place by Sept 27. The session is expected to be convened by King Norodom Sihanouk within the next two weeks.
“If we swear in, that means we accept the results of the election and Hun Sen can do anything he wants,” Ok Socheat said.
Funcinpec security adviser Serey Kosal said he was one of several members of the party’s steering committee who backed this plan.
Such a decision would mean the parliamentarians would decline the King’s invitation. But in the current political situation, Funcinpec has little choice, Ok Socheat said.
“How could we accept an invitation like this?” he said.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)