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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King withdraws, mourning a 'broken' nation

King withdraws, mourning a 'broken' nation

D ISILLUSIONED King Norodom Sihanouk has continued his withdrawal from his constitutional

role as the nation's monarch, making it clear he will no longer play even the procedural

and ceremonial roles assigned him by the Constitution.

The King, who has repeatedly said he is waiting for permission from Second Prime

Minister Hun Sen to abdicate, has shown increasing despondancy over his inability

to influence events and prevent Cambodia from descending into an abyss of self-destruction.

"If I was not a Buddhist, I would commit suicide, as the end of my life is full

of shame, humiliation and despair on a national level," the King said in an

October 5 interview with the staff that compiles his palace news bulletin.

The King went on to paint a grim picture of Cambodia and made it clear that his 75th

birthday on Oct 31 should be a quiet affair. He urged that this birthday - usually

one of Cambodia's most festive holidays - should be celebrated simply and soberly

at a "strict minimum of expense to the flat national budget".

"I have to mourn our divided, broken, humiliated, desperate nation, whose future

is beyond darkness," he said.

In October 19 letters to top officials and diplomats, the King also asked them not

to attend his departure for Beijing, expected within the next few days - before his

birthday - which he wanted to be a "low-profile" affair.

"We have cordially met and talked already," he wrote.

Earlier, in an Oct 6 interview with his staff, the monarch reiterated his desire

to step down from the throne if there is no positive evolution in the political climate.

"I sincerely wish to abdicate, but I await Samdech Hun Sen, our strongman, to

give me the green light before abdicating," he said in an interview the following

day.

The King has repeatedly highlighted Hun Sen's rejection of his offers to broker a

peace in the northwest and bring self-exiled politicians back into the political

fold.

One long-time acquaintance of the King said: "It will depend on how the political

situation evolves. This [abdication] option should not be rejected... The King sees

that every single step he makes fails to reconcile the nation. He says that maybe

it is time for him to take charge of his responsibilities."

The monarch also made it clear that he will not preside over a national commission

being formed to monitor next year's elections or the Supreme Council of Magistracy,

the top body charged with guaranteeing the independence of the courts.

In an October 21 statement, the King announced he will rest "entirely outside

of Cambodian electoral affairs" in the run-up to elections scheduled for next

year.

In another sign of his withdrawal, the monarch wrote an October 14 letter of apology

to Buddhist patriarch Maha Ghosananda. He explained to the renowned peace activist

that he could not sign a credential letter authorizing him to represent Cambodia

at a UNESCO annual gathering in Paris this month.

"I have experienced defeat by signing the [credential letter] for the delegation

to attend the United Nations 52nd General Assembly session in New York... I will

never again get involved in the affairs of the Royal Government or international

organizations even if there is a request from the prime ministers."

While the King, First Prime Minister Ung Huot and Hun Sen initially agreed that the

widely-respected Maha Ghosananda could represent Cambodia at the UNESCO meeting,

the King later changed his mind, according to one European political observer.

The King's change of heart came after self-exiles in Bangkok rejected "any Phnom

Penh representative," saying they would send one of their own, he said.

"Sending Maha Ghosananda as Cambodia's spiritual father and as the King's personal

envoy to Paris was a sign by all parties that they would partake in negotiations.

It was a timid but a symbolic attempt. By putting forth another candidate, Ranariddh's

side killed the spirit of that move," he added.

A further sign of the King's disillusionment with Cambodia's political players -

on all sides - was demonstrated by his inclusion of harsh and detailed criticisms

of his son Ranariddh in a recent issue of the bulletin he edits personally.

A four-page editorial by a writer who appears to have witnessed numerous conversations

between the monarch and his son, blasted the Prince for a series of "tactical,

strategic, diplomatic, psychological, [and] political mistakes" that brought

about his downfall and made Hun Sen his "mortal enemy."

In the article in the "open forum" section of the bulletin, Mean Khuny

wrote: "Samdech Ranariddh has no right to hold his father responsible for his

own blunders."

The editorial went on to say that the Prince could have avoided many of his current

problems if he had listened to the King.

BLDP Parliamentarian Son Chhay, who met with the monarch for two hours Oct 18, said

the King is visibly distraught.

"I shared my concerns [about Cambodia]. He was in tears. I saw him, as my own

father, crying. Cambodia [you] will be a better place if you don't make your own

father cry," Chhay said Oct 21.

In what may be his final stab at mediation, the King was to meet with Hun Sen Oct

23 to ask him to join informal talks with self-exiles, Son Chhay said, explaining

that the King was to propose that his son not be included at the start of talks.

"He doesn't want to see the Prince sentenced in jail in T3 [prison]."

Chhay said the King would raise the issues of a cease-fire, the safe return of opposition

politicians and the prospect for elections next year.

A palace source confirmed that the King planned to meet with Hun Sen - two days before

the monarch's planned Oct 25 departure for Beijing.

Advisers to Hun Sen could not be reached at Post press time to comment on the proposed

talks.

The King might be convinced to change his departure plans, Son Chhay said. "I

hope that the King will stay for his birthday."

If all goes well, the King will return to Cambodia within two or three weeks to mediate

over talks to bring peace, Chhay said.

In the October 19 letter to diplomats, the King said that he hopes to return to Cambodia

"with the shortest possible delay" once he finishes medical tests and treatments.

"We will see each other once again in Phnom Penh in the not so distant future,"

the King wrote.

Since his return from China, the King has conspicuously avoided visiting Phnom Penh

- an absence observers considered a rebuke to the Ung Huot-Hun Sen government.

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