Speed of fall only surprise in power battle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 1997, 12:00am

When fighting broke out in Phnom Penh between troops loyal to Cambodia's two main political parties a month ago, few people expected such a rapid and final unravelling of the ruling coalition.

Military and political analysts said a violent showdown between co-premiers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen was inevitable but the speed with which the prince's hold on power was swept aside by Mr Hun Sen has shocked many.

There are many Cambodians who say the choice between peace and war is the most critical one now, and that the country's experiment with multi-party democracy may have to be set aside to a later date.

'Democracy? Yes we want democracy but it will take a long time because for more than 20 years Khmer have been killing Khmer and there is so much hatred, it is difficult to have democracy,' one local businessman said.

The success of Mr Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party's (CPP) in routing Prince Ranariddh's Funcinpec party militarily came as no real surprise, but the political annihilation of the prince's royalist party across the country within days of the coup caught pro-democracy and human rights workers unprepared.

'The Funcinpec leadership has gone, senior ministers and officials have fled the country,' a United Nations official said. 'The continuing arrests and assassinations will wipe the party out . . . all we have left is the shell of opposition parties . . . in reality what you have now is a one-party state.

'In several strongly CPP provinces all the Funcinpec offices are closed and the signs have been taken down,' he said.

At least 40 Funcinpec officials have reportedly been executed and nearly 600 detained.

'We have to admit that our work to build a democratic Cambodian society has failed,' said Lao Mong Hai, the director of The Khmer Institute of Democracy.

But Mr Mong Hai said Cambodia's ten million people had a taste for human rights and democracy that had not been lost.