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Western Press Review: Cambodian Turmoil

  • Don Hill

Prague, 14 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary seeks to sort out the still-uncertain results of political maneuvering following last month's coup in Cambodia.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Strong man and King are linked

Stefan Klein writes that Cambodian strong man Hun Sen is a leader more notable for his slyness than for his principles. Klein writes: "Hun Sen is probably Cambodia's most gifted politician. Gifted in the sense that he has no scruples but all the tricks of the political trade. Especially dirty tricks.

"King Sihanouk had a secret liking for the crafty power politician and, in spite of their longstanding opposition to one another in the civil war, called him 'son.' Hun Sen, however, did not return the compliment. On the contrary, he used force to push Sihanouk's own flesh and blood, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, out of power and sought instead a more accommodating coalition partner." Klein says: "What he really wants, no one can say, but the fact is that he joined the ranks of the Khmer Rouge jungle fighters in 1969. The man who was later to become their great opponent did well in the guerrilla ranks and was promoted as high as deputy regimental commander."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Political freedom suffers

Staff writer Cameron W. Barr says in a news analysis today that the events in Cambodia so far this year leave the identity of any victors uncertain, but that one loser is evident. The loser, he says, is democracy.

Barr writes: "These days concepts like freedom of political expression aren't too important in Cambodia, where the top UN representative worries about an 'atmosphere of fear.' What is paramount -- especially in the eyes of the CPP (Cambodia Peoples Party) and its leader Hun Sen -- is stability, efficiency, and control. This triumph of expediency over democracy may lead to even more conflict in this troubled country. The world watches."

Barr says: "The international community's attempt to bring peace and democracy to this Southeast Asian nation of 10 million people, highlighted by an accord among Cambodian factions reached in 1991 and UN-backed elections in 1993, was also a way for some countries to clear their consciences. There is a lot to atone for."

He writes: "Most Cambodians are still trying to assess the impact of July 5 and 6, two fateful days of fighting in and around the capital between forces under Hun Sen's command and those loyal to his chief rival and partner in government, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Hun Sen won, and Prince Ranariddh is out of the country -- that much is clear. But it remains unclear whether Hun Sen initiated a coup to rid himself of Ranariddh, or whether the violence was the inevitable eruption of tension that had been building for months, if not years."

WASHINGTON POST: King Sihanouk could change public opinion

In a news analysis today, Steven Mufson writes that not only Hun Sen's maneuvering but also King Norodom Sihanouk's vacillating confuse the Cambodian situation. Mufson reports: "King Norodom Sihanouk said (yesterday) that Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, at their meeting here Tuesday, rejected the monarch's offer to abdicate. Sihanouk made his call for peace amid reports from Phnom Penh that Cambodian forces loyal to Hun Sen are closing in on the last major stronghold of troops loyal to Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was ousted from his post as first prime minister by Hun Sen in a coup on July 5 and 6."

Mufson says: "Hun Sen, along with two other Cambodian officials, led a 45-member delegation to Beijing to seek Sihanouk's blessing or at least obtain recognition from the monarch, who has been undergoing medical treatment here since February. But Sihanouk withheld any endorsement of Hun Sen or his handpicked co-premier, Ung Huot, whom the king dubbed a 'puppet' last week." The writer contends: "The visit was important because the king still has great stature in Cambodia and could help rally popular opinion for or against Hun Sen. Moreover, the king's position could influence other nations, whose support or acceptance is crucial because impoverished Cambodia relies heavily on foreign aid, particularly from the United States."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Hun Sen doesn't need king any more

Jurgen Dauth comments today's that Hun Sen's military position appears to have clarified but that his political position, and that of the king, remain murky.

Dauth says: "The superiority of the forces of Prime Minister Hun Sen seems to have brought the Cambodian civil war to near the end of its military phase. But now the political indecision of King Norodom Sihanouk is causing a new round of domestic political confusion. He has threatened to resign -- for the umpteenth time. But although he has often enough said he wants to quit, his threats have remained just that, threats.

"On this occasion it may well be the same story, even though he is said to have submitted his resignation request in Beijing. When the Cambodian peace treaty was signed in Paris in 1991, Sihanouk became king for the second time, and claimed to want to mediate between the various political groups."

The Frankfurter Rundschau commentator writes: "Hun Sen does not really need Sihanouk any more. But he intends exploiting the historical charisma of the Cambodian monarchy as a means of legitimizing himself both with the Cambodian people and internationally. That is why he has no interest in Sihanouk resigning and that is why he went to Beijing. He wants to keep Sihanouk on the throne.

"Sihanouk's vacillating also is confusing foreign policy. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants to mediate in the dispute but it does not know with whom it should be dealing. Instead, the Asean foreign ministers have put the issue on the back burner. The United States has contributed to a further fogging of the situation. U.S. special envoy Desaix Anderson negotiated expressly with Ung Huot as first prime minister in Phnom Penh, thus signaling that Washington was proposing supporting the status quo."