B EIJING - King Norodom Sihanouk, watching from Beijing with increasing alarm the
failure of peace negotiations and continuing civil war, is planting the seeds
for retaking the reigns of power in Cambodia.
But he stressed he would
only assume control if invited by parliament and with the agreement of the
leaders of the Royal Government, particularly Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's
Party who Sihanouk said must agree to his taking real power or such an effort
would be "useless."
In an interview with the Post on June 11, Sihanouk
unveiled a detailed plan to assume real power from the Royal Government and
forge a national reconciliation government that gives high positions to the
Khmer Rouge in order to halt the civil war.
"It is true that the current
government has shown that it is not capable of stopping the process of
deterioration of the situation - the overall situation," Sihanouk said in a
three-hour interview at his Peking palace.
"I hope the situation of
Cambodia will not be in anarchy, but if the situation is one of anarchy I will
be obliged to intervene. But I will not intervene unless the parliament says
that, for one or two years, we have to stop the constitutional system, like in
ancient Rome, we have to let a national leader, a traditional leader return to
power in order to save the situation and lead the country. If I am not too weak
physically I will certainly say 'yes.'
"I must be frank. Because I love
Cambodia too much I cannot let Cambodia sink like that. I cannot let it and I
will have against me [co-prime ministers] Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Sure,
sure, but how can I avoid intervening in a few months time or one year's time if
the situation continues to deteriorate?"
Sihanouk currently holds the
title of head of state as the constitutional monarch, but acknowledges it is a
largely powerless role.
His efforts at brokering a peace accord between
leaders of the government and the radical Khmer Rouge collapsed earlier this
month in Pyongyang with no sign of progress. A new round of talks was to begin
on June 15 in Phnom Penh, but little hope is held for any
Pleas by the government for international military
assistance to fight the Khmer Rouge have been largely rejected by major Western
powers, and instability in the countryside has gravely hampered hoped for
private investment and international reconstruction aid that is needed to help
bring economic improvement and political stability to the struggling regime.
Such a situation has helped the Khmer Rouge strengthen their position in
recent months. A five-month government military campaign against the guerrilla
faction met with no success with the government in control of less territory
than before their military push.
"I warned Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen
that we could not go to war in such conditions, but Mr. Hun Sen, he is
definitely against my warning because he is aware of the fact that the King
reigns but does not govern."
But Sihanouk said the country's two prime
ministers "believe that they are able men and should not be replaced, even by
And, he warned, "I must tell you frankly I think seriously of a
secession", if Sihanouk attempted to take power. Without prior agreement by Hun
Sen "there would be bloodshed."
"I know that Mr Hun Sen will be red in
the face....when he will read your article he will say that 'we were absolutely
wrong to elect Sihanouk as King, it is extremely bad, extremely dangerous and
now he wants to retake power and to take the Khmer Rouge again in his
government. It will be a catastrophe'. Mr Hun Sen will attack me very, very
violently. I know that. But it is my duty now to tell you today that I cannot
accept the death of Cambodia and the Cambodian people and race. I cannot before
I die. I prefer to die at the service of my nation to help save it rather than
to die in Peking and in the hospital and letting my homeland sink completely and
disappear from the map of the world.
"As Prince Ranariddh used to say to
me 'please let me go on governing Cambodia because I have taken power for just a
few months. You have to wait until next year to see the results. But there is
another opinion among the people and among the politicians. The other opinion is
that if they allow this government to go on for one year Cambodia will
completely collapse-not just the government but the country
Sihanouks comments come amid a backdrop of popular discontent,
including among leading figures in the government, military, and national
assembly who are frustrated at their own party leaders inability to achieve
stability since last year's elections.
Sihanouk said that a number of
senior "politicians, military figures, and in the administration" had come to
him asking him to seize power in recent months.
Sihanouk stressed that a
return to power would require the approval of the parliament. The constitution
allows the parliament-with two thirds approval of the 120 member body-to give
"extraordinary" powers to the King during a time of crisis.
It is this
fact that supporters of the move to bring Sihanouk back to power are attempting-
essentially a constitutional coup that would be led by members of the two major
parties in the coalition government behind the backs of their own
But Sihanouk is well aware that without the support of the CPP -
which controls the bulk of the army, security services, and state administration
- his efforts would be doomed.
"I will accept to return to power, but I
need also Hun Sen's support. If he does not support me it is useless for me to
go back to Cambodia because I do not want to shed blood to fight a secession led
by Hun Sen.... I need Hun Sen. I need his support. I need the approval of his
party. I cannot return to power to go back to Cambodia unless I have the
assurance that Hun Sen and his party will join me in my government."
want my power from the parliament....I will not let them have a pretext to
condemn me as a dictator....I will accept power on the condition that the
parliament will give it to me and I will return to Cambodia only if Mr Hun Sen's
party joins me."
"As far as Ranariddh is concerned, I am sure that my son
will not betray me...He will accept certainly. Not with joy. With sadness
certainly. With anger certainly," Sihanouk said, "But he will I am sure not
Aides say that Sihanouk will try to come back to Cambodia in July
or August, depending on the outcome of current medical tests in Beijing to
assess the state of his cancer. He said that he has suffered from lymphoma - now
in remission - bone marrow cancer, arteriosclerosis, and heart and liver
But sources say that, to date, his medical condition has
responded well to treatment, and he appears strong and lively to his many
visitors. "I still have cancer cells in my bone marrow - but I feel quite
normal. It is in my nature. I don't like to appear like a man who is physically
ill. I used to be dynamic...but in fact I have very, very, serious health
"So like Charles DeGaulle from his small village of Colombay
Les Deux Eglises in 1958...I may retake power.... I may imitate DeGaulle. But
not now. I must wait for further deterioration of the
Sihanouk outlined a detailed structure of a government that
he would lead, including himself "as head of state and head of government with
strong powers" and four vice presidents, which include the First and Second
Prime Ministers, Sam Rainsy, and Khmer Rouge president Khieu Samphan.
said that he has been thinking for some time of the possibility of retaking
power. "I do not improvise. It is not just because you ask me a question. No,no,
I have been thinking of this for many nights. In the nights I do not sleep well
because I am thinking of the fate of my country."
He stressed that "I
have no plan to take power now," and that the situation "is not desperate
enough", but "in case the situation will become anarchic and desperate I would
have to take power for one or two years. I did it in 1952 and 1953 to put an end
to the anarchy of the Kingdom....so why not now before I die, the last
mission....If Mr Hun Sen, instead of making secession, if Mr Hun Sen's party
decides to join me I would be too happy to accept their support."
plan is very simple. I will be the head of the government. Not just the head of
state, but the head of government. That means my own Prime Minister."
repeat I want national reconciliation and my government can only be one of
national unity with all parties and I will give important portfolios to the
Khmer Rouge," he said, "The program is this: the rehabilitation and
reconstruction of the country and a non-war situation, national reconciliation,
and together with the Khmer Rouge and non-Khmer Rouge we join to rebuild our
nation, and besides that I repeat we will maintain the parliament," he said,
"The only difference is I will make a radical change in my non-war policy. No
war with the Khmer Rouge and the Khmer Rouge in my government. It is the only
change! The only change! But it is the very, very basis of my process of saving
But, he said, even his own wife Queen Monineath - considered
Sihanouk's closest political advisor and confident - is opposed to his return to
the reigns of state. "I reveal to you my wife says: 'I am definitely against
your return to power. I am not your supporter in case you retake power.' So, you
know I will lose even my wife. But to lose my wife,to lose Mr Hun Sen is nothing
compared to Cambodia.
"For me Cambodia is my life. If Cambodia sinks I
have no reason to survive. I have no reason to live. I prefer dying...."