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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has sacked 17 government ministers belonging to the rival FUNCINPEC Party, citing their failure to appear for cabinet meetings and perform their ministerial duties, RFA reports.

�Yesterday I signed [an order] to oust 17 officials-four deputy secretaries of state, 10 officials at the provincial and district levels, and three diplomats,� Hun Sen told RFA�s Khmer service Friday. �I [said that] those who do not come to work and those who do not listen to the government directive, we will pull them out.�

On Sunday the U.S. reacted in a statement that said it "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. We urge that this process unfold peacefully, without violence or intimidation." The statement added that Hun Sen's dismissal of the FUNCINPEC cabinet members could be construed as pressure to sway the party to form a coalition with the Cambodia People's Party (CPP).

Hun Sen�s CPP gained 73 seats in the National Assembly during elections in August. But without a two-thirds majority, Cambodian law prevents him from forming his own government.

The CPP�s two main rivals are the royalist FUNCINPEC Party and the Sam Rainsy Party, which won 26 and 24 seats, respectively. Both parties have formed an alliance against Hun Sen�s leadership in the future government. FUNCINPEC cabinet members called for a boycott on Hun Sen�s cabinet meetings to protest his refusal to step down as prime minister.

Hun Sen decided to sack the 17 FUNCINPEC officials, according to the order signed Thursday, because they had abandoned their duties to work with members of an alliance that opposed him.

�I�m not going to allow anyone to stand with one leg inside the government and the other in the opposition,� he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting, according to the Associated Press.

The fate of the future government remains uncertain in Cambodia. The deadlock in forming a new government has stirred memories of catastrophic 1998 polls in which angry voters took to the streets inciting mass riots.


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