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Hun Sen Seeks Cambodian Coalition

July 30, 1998

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) _ Strongman Hun Sen won King Norodom Sihanouk’s unofficial backing Thursday to try to quell Cambodia’s political instability by creating a three-sided coalition government including opposition parties that accuse him of electoral fraud.

But the opposition parties led by Sihanouk’s son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Sam Rainsy said it was too early to discuss a coalition before allegations of election irregularities are investigated and the final count from Sunday’s elections is in.

Hun Sen still would hold all the important levers of power under his coalition plan.

Though Sihanouk is largely a figurehead, his popularity among many Cambodians and high international profile make his blessing a vital step for Hun Sen to win back international legitimacy and aid lost by ousting Ranariddh as co-prime minister in a bloody coup last year.

``The king is pleased with the idea,″ Hun Sen told a news conference after emerging from talks with Sihanouk. ``It will create cooperation in the National Assembly and the government, giving a favorable atmosphere for national reconstruction.″

Accusing Hun Sen of rigging the election, both Ranariddh’s royalist FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party threaten to boycott the assembly and paralyze formation of a government.

Terrorized opposition activists, meanwhile, have fled from the provinces to the capital, Phnom Penh, as the Hun Sen-controlled police retaliated for their challenges to his rule.

Thomas Hammarberg, the top United Nations human rights envoy to Cambodia, said the international community wanted it stopped.

``It’s very important that the political leadership make very clear they will take a strong stance against attempts to settle scores,″ said Hammarberg.

Many Cambodians disbelieve claims by Hun Sen’s party of an overwhelming election victory, but they also put a premium on stability after decades of war, the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s that caused the deaths of as many as 2 million people, and last year’s coup.

Under Hun Sen’s proposal, his Cambodian People’s Party would retain control of the key ministries _ the security portfolios of interior and defense, finance, justice and foreign affairs. Sharing other ministries would be discussed after final results come in.

The action signaled that Hun Sen _ relaxed and confident despite an emergency appendectomy two weeks ago _ realizes he cannot ignore the opposition but intends to keep all real power.

Hun Sen said that officials of his party have already discussed the idea with FUNCINPEC

Sihanouk, 75, intends to leave for China for medical treatment once the new assembly and government are seated, Hun Sen said.

The opposition has threatened to boycott the assembly, denying the two-thirds attendance needed to confirm a new government. Hun Sen replied Wednesday he would change the constitution to rule unfettered for the next five years.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, an independent monitoring group, and human rights groups claimed that opposition activists were being terrorized in the provinces after Hun Sen won.

At least 23 activists have fled to Phnom Penh, ANFREL told a news conference. In many cases, police surrounded meetings and attacked or threatened those attending.

``If massive violence or retaliation occurs, it will undermine the limited success of the election,″ said ANFREL member Nobuhiko Suto.

In the pre-election period, violence, including murder, was widespread against opposition activists.

Full official results are not expected from the Hun Sen-packed National Election Committee before Sunday.

The top independent monitoring group, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said its figures showed that with 90 percent of the ballots counted, the CPP looked set to get 59 of the 122 National Assembly seats, FUNCINPEC 45 and the Sam Rainsy Party 18.

Ranariddh won U.N.-organized elections in 1993. Hun Sen, who came to power in 1985 under the Vietnamese occupation that followed the Khmer Rouge, refused to accept defeat and forced his way into a co-premiership with threats of war. He deposed Ranariddh last year in two days of fighting in the capital.

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