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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - F'PEC wants Ranariddh back in the fold

F'PEC wants Ranariddh back in the fold

After twelve months without Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Funcinpec wants him back.

Or so it seems.

In an about face, senior politicians in the 26-year-old royalist party who kicked

Ranariddh out last year said they are looking for a way to clear the slate with their

former party president and with Prime Minister Hun Sen so the prince can return to

the party he headed for 14 years.

In a related development, the Funcinpec party congress on October 18 nominated his

younger sister, Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, 52, to be their party's candidate for

prime minister in the national elections. (See Royalists, page 4)

Ranariddh, 63, has been spending most of his time out of the country for over a year

as he heads up the new Norodom Ranariddh Party, NRP, formed following his departure

from Funcinpec.

Funcinpec leaders told the Post they are looking for a way to open the door for Ranariddh

to allow him to return to the party that would include dropping his legal conviction

in a suit filed against him by his former Funcinpec colleagues. Fearing arrest due

to a 18-month prison sentence resulting from the conviction, Ranariddh has not re-entered

Cambodia since early this year. Also, the leaders of his new NRP do not want him

to come back - only to be put in jail.

Nhiek Bun Chhay, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary General of Funcinpec, told the

Post October 15 that if the prince wants to return to Cambodia, the way is to come

through Funcinpec.

"The issues were between Ranariddh and Funcinpec," said Bun Chhay, who

was a loyal supporter of Ranariddh over the years.

"Prince Ranariddh and Norodom Ranariddh Party should be seeking a political

resolution through Funcinpec. The door is still open for the prince."

"We've had good intentions," said Bun Chhay. "But NRP thought that

we need the prince because we were in bad situation for the contest in upcoming national

elections."

Bun Chhay's assertion that Funcinpec can clear the way back for the prince conflicts

some with Prime Minister Hun Sen's statement a week earlier that the door is still

shut on Ranariddh.

In a speech on October 8 Hun Sen said he doesn't want to negotiate any further about

Ranariddh, hinting that an offer was made, but that it didn't work out.

"There is a way for [the prince] to return to Cambodia, but he didn't take it,"

Hun Sen said in a speech to students at the National Education Institute. He didn't

explain.

"From now on the negotiation by fax and letters about the returning must be

stopped," he said.

But Bun Chhay said Funcinpec is an important bridge with the Prime Minister.

Some said it's all up to Ranariddh if he comes back, despite the complex web of problems

he left behind, ranging from marital problems to a lawsuit filed against him by his

Funcinpec colleagues.

"I think that whether Ranariddh will return or not depends on himself. Both

NRP and Funcinpec will not receive good results in the upcoming national elections,"

said Soy Sopheap, the publisher of Deum Apil News.

Sopheap previously helped broker the release of five imprisoned civil society leaders

and the return from exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, and he is now acting as

a mediator between Ranariddh and Funcinpec. He said Ranariddh broke the negotiations

- citing the prince's various personal problems along with new pressure from his

NRP colleagues to stick with them.

"If Ranariddh returns to Funcinpec before the national elections, the prince

will retain prestige within the coalition government because the CPP respects Funcinpec

as a royalist and a partnership," said Sopheap.

He said if Funcinpec remains a party with some standing, the CPP will continue the

power sharing arrangement with Funcinpec in order to ensure political stability.

NRP spokesman Mouth Chantha (see Q & A, page 2) said he does not see Ranariddh

returning to Funcinpec.

He cited both the coup against him and the results of the commune elections which

he said demonstrated a shift among grass roots voters from Funcinpec to NRP. He said

that the main issue now is the safety of Ranariddh.

"If the prince is to come back then there is a possibility that he will be put

in jail. We don't want that," Chantha said.

He said the party is optimistic that either the King will grant amnesty for Ranariddh

or that the international community, which supports the elections process, will step

in, but he did not mention that Hun Sen himself would help out.

Funcinpec's party president for the last year has been Keo Puth Reasmy, a former

Cambodian ambassador who is married to Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey.

Meanwhile votes are at stake.

Comfrel's Koul Panha , said neither Funcinpec nor NRP will win big in the national

elections if you consider the results of the April 2007 commune elections where both

parties split the former Funcinpec vote and came in third and fourth after CPP and

Sam Rainsy Party.

"I think that the 2008 election result of Funcinpec and NRP will not be as good

as when they were in unity with one political party," Panha said.

Comfrel said in its final report on the commune council elections made public a few

weeks ago that a divided opposition will always benefit the ruling party CPP.

This should give a message to political parties and elected officials to fulfill

their tasks and put first the interests of the nation and its people, he said.

Panha said that the NRP and Funcinpec both come from the same place and they should

talk to each other about finding a political resolution.

"We cannot predict about the return of Ranariddh because of political influence

over division of one political organization of the party and with the legal system,"

Panha said.

"A political resolution would be reached when they find a mutual benefit."

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