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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King returns, gives nod to Ung Huot

King returns, gives nod to Ung Huot

K ING Norodom Sihanouk has cleared the way for international recognition of Ung Huot

as First Prime Minister by accrediting him to the Cambodian delegation to the United

Nations.

Despite his statements that he supports his son, the ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh,

as first Prime Minister, political observers say that the King's signature on the

accreditation letter is what will be taken into account by the world community.

In a Sept 2 letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the King named Cambodia's

delegation to the UN as being headed by Ung Huot, "First Prime Minister and

Minister of Foreign Affairs", and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The King signed the letter, prepared by the government, four days after returning

to Cambodia from a six-month absence abroad. The King's return prompted delicate

public sparring between him and Hun Sen - including an ill-fated attempt to sponsor

negotiations between the Second Prime Minister and Ranariddh.

But observers say that, despite contradictory statements by the King over Ranariddh's

position, His Majesty has effectively put an end to his son's hopes of continuing

to be internationally recognized as First Prime Minister.

They noted that the King was well aware of the significance of Cambodia's seat at

the UN, which, in the 1980s, was contested between the Vietnam-backed Phnom Penh

regime and the Sihanouk-led coalition government in exile. The UN recognized the

exiled government.

"The fact he signed this document is very important and very official. It does

mean that he is recognizing Ung Huot as Prime Minister," said political observer

and historian Raoul Jennar. "The lawyers at the UN will consider based on that

letter that Ung Huot is the legal Prime Minister.

"Sihanouk knows that it is very important - he lived through the example of

the 80's when there was a struggle for the seat at the UN."

Ranariddh, meanwhile, insisted that he remains First Prime Minister and has the right

to represent Cambodia.

In a faxed letter to his son dated Sept 5, the King explained that he had not known

that Ranariddh was trying to set up his own delegation to the UN General Assembly.

The King wrote that he felt obliged to sign the letter to Kofi Annan, as requested

by the government following his return to Cambodia.

In another fax sent to a personal envoy of Prince Ranariddh, Thach Bunroeun, the

King wrote that he still considered his son the legal First Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, the King, even before his return to Cambodia, made several apparent attempts

to express his displeasure at Hun Sen. Two days after Hun Sen sought the replacement

of some foreign staff at the UN Center for Human Rights in Phnom Penh, the King awarded

Royal medals to virtually all the center's expatriate staff.

The King also issued a statement in which he explained that he could not avoid returning

to his homeland, and called for a cease-fire to be declared to the fighting for O'Smach

in northern Cambodia.

The King wrote that he was not able to recognize de facto or de jure the new government,

but that as monarch it was his duty to have relations with all Cambodians, those

who held power and those who did not.

Hun Sen and Ung Huot were among dignitaries who gathered to greet the King upon his

return in Siem Reap, where His Majesty has taken up residence, choosing not to live

in Phnom Penh.

"Now the King stays here, he's working here in Cambodia," Hun Sen told

reporters, claiming new legitimacy for his government. "Now we have one coalition

government here, not two, only one. The King is staying here to work with us."

In a rare press conference in Siem Reap Aug 31, two days after his arrival, the King

called for talks between Hun Sen and Ranariddh.

"If all of you pity me...you should agree to meet each other and if you meet,

I should help to be a mediator," said the King, adding that if Hun Sen did not

want to meet Ranariddh, he could meet one of the Prince's representatives.

Of his relations with Hun Sen, the King said that he had to be very diplomatic in

dealing with the Second Prime Minister. "I hope I will be able to make him understand

that he has to improve the Royal government and human rights."

His Majesty also questioned the prospect of the 1998 elections being free and fair.

He said he was not sure if that was possible, while at the same time stressing that

he meant "no criticism of His Excellency Hun Sen and his regime".

The King added: "Hun Sen and his party would like me to play a role as supreme

adviser to the government and to everybody [on the elections]. I accept to fulfill

such a mission."

Hun Sen, meanwhile, appeared to dismiss the prospect of negotiations with Ranariddh.

In a Sept 2 written reply to the King, Hun Sen and Ung Huot said they would talk

only with people who laid down their arms and asked for an audience with the King.

They specifically excluded Ranariddh from any negotiations, saying that his fate

depended on the courts. The government is moving to try Ranariddh in absentia on

weapons and national security charges.

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