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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Our Father is His Father' Ranariddh tours Sihanouk territory

'Our Father is His Father' Ranariddh tours Sihanouk territory

The campaign period drew to a peaceful close on May 19-just four days before the

voters were to begin casting their ballots to chose Cambodia's future government

after two decades of war.

Out of the 20 political parties, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the Sihanoukist

FUNCINPEC, have been the most active attracting thousands of people to their rallies.

Both are trying to win an absolute majority in order to have a chance of forming

the new government and also to have the dominant say in the drafting of the new constitution.

In its campaign programs the State of Cambodia (SOC) has been exploiting the defection

of FUNCINPEC generals to attack Prince Ranariddh, who they claim has close ties with

the Khmer Rouge (KR).

"I am very disappointed that I let myself be cheated by the disreputable acts

of Prince Ranariddh...I am very sorry for the death of our compatriots in recent

attacks by the Khmer Rouge and FUNCINPEC. I apologize," State of Cambodia Prime

Minister Hun Sen said during his rallies in Tbong Khmum, which were broadcast on

government-run TV on May 12.

Hun Sen repeatedly charged that victory by either FUNCINPEC or the Buddhist Liberal

Democratic Party (BLDP) in the elections would open the door for the Khmer Rouge

to renew their genocidal policies in Cambodia. He pledged his Cambodian People's

Party would do everything to prevent the Khmer Rouge from returning to power again

if the party is victorious.

In response, FUNCINPEC's president Prince Norodom Ranariddh categorically rejected

the allegation by saying that it was equally directed against his father Prince Norodom

Sihanouk, who founded this party.

"How come we are accused of being the Khmer Rouge? We have big trouble with

them in our zones," he disappointedly told reporters during a campaign stop

in Prey Veng provincial town.

There, under a sizzling sun in the morning FUNCINPEC supporters were treated to a

modified basac performance before the start of the prince's speech. The play followed

the story of a hero who returns to his country to get find an evil spirit in power

-a thinly -veiled reference to Vietnamese.

"You're trying to draw us into a war, aren't you? O.K. Do not blame us for being

racist. But, if you want to be alive, get out of our land quickly," the hero

warned his enemy.

The audience broke into cheers and applause at the end of the play as the hero defeated

the evil spirit who consistently refused to leave Cambodia.

A crowd of around 5,000 supporters impatiently waited for the arrival of Ranariddh.

As soon as the U.N. helicopter with the prince on board could be seen, the crowd

stood up brandishing the party's logos and yelled out "cheiyo! cheiyo! cheiyo!"

"We will win, we will win," Sok Yun, a 60-year-old woman, shouted as the

chopper prepared to land. Another young woman was so excited she burst into tears

when she touched the prince's hands.

The vocal crowd said they had only reached the rally after taking great risks. Some

said they had come via the paddy fields rather than taking the main roads where they

could have been barred by SOC police from attending the FUNCINPEC rally.

"I came here to show my support for Prince Ranariddh, because he has the ability

to restore peace and rule the country. I don't like Hun Sen because his regime is

not clean," Tung Seng, a farmer, said.

At the age of 87, Neo Sophal is still strong enough to push her way through the crowd

to get a close-up look at Prince Ranariddh. She was squeezed in among the front-row

supporters when she began voicing her prayer, for the prince "Let God bless

your Highness". While chewing betel leaves with tobacco she added enthusiastically:

"I love him. He looks like his father."

"His father is our father because he has always taken care of us," she

said. "I don't want anything from him, just peace and prosperity," she


Mao, 50, who attended the rallies complained that she never had enough rice to feed

her family during the 14-year-rule of the Phnom Penh regime.

"I will vote for FUNCINPEC because it's the only party capable of finding justice

for us," she said.

Ranariddh opened his address by saying: "We are fed up with war." Asking

his sympathizers who they would vote for if they wanted peace, they simultaneously

yelled 'FUNCINPEC'. If you vote for FUNCINPEC, who do you vote for? The crowd responded

'Samdech Euv' or [King-Father]-as Cambodians used to refer to Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

The issues of corruption among SOC officials and Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia

were the focus of Ranariddh's attack on the Phnom Penh regime.

"We are not racists. We must take back our territory given to foreigners. We

will resolve the problem of corruption and selling off of the government assets,"

he told the crowd.

The crowd shouted 'no' in response to Ranariddh's question as to whether they wanted

the foreigners [Vietnamese] to return to Cambodia.

During the one-hour-long speech, he also strongly criticized the downfall of the

communist system following the collapse of the former Soviet Union and its allies

in eastern Europe. However, he appeared not to dare to direct his criticism against

China and North Korea-the countries, where his father Prince Sihanouk has taken shelter

during his 20 years of exile.

"All countries that choose communism, their economies must fall apart,"

Ranariddh said.

He said if FUNCINPEC won, he would hand unanimous power to Prince Sihanouk-the nominal

head of state and president of the country's Supreme National Council (SNC)-enabling

him to launch his second crusade for the sake of national reconciliation and bring

peace to Cambodia.

Ranariddh said "I will get my father back. He could run the country. If he wants

to reunite all the Cambodians, it's up to him." He said he firmly believes that

his party would win and that if he could achieve this goal the Khmer Rouge would

not be able to not find any pretexts to resist the government that emerges from the


"It will be a government of the Cambodian people. I will thank them, but not

the Vietnamese," he said. "If the Khmer Rouge fight us, it means they fight

the people who support us...So, please tell Mr. Pol Pot 'be wise'," he added.

SOC has complained that FUNCINPEC has violated UNTAC's electoral law which prohibits

political parties from using logos with Sihanouk's portrait for the campaign rallies.

But, Ranariddh has distributed T-shirts with his father's picture in an attempt to

remind them of how prosperous their life was under Sihanouk's regime.

"Then it was much different as people could walk or talk without any fear. With

SOC we must always be careful," said 50-year-old Im. She and her two sons came

from Phnum Srang-about 35 km from the central town of Kompong Speu province to join

a Ranariddh rally held in the provincial town on May 12. She said that the local

authorities had threatened to confiscate her farm land if she came to the rally.

"I love the prince because his morality is higher than Hun Sen's, and he can

influence the people," she said.

Some of the younger generation also hope that peace can be restored if the Vietnamese

installed government is defeated in the elections.

Khai Sarin, 24, along with his friends who were at the rally, said "I and my

friends support FUNCINPEC because we want peace and our territory back."

"If SOC wins, Yuon [Vietnamese]will flow into my country and Hun Sen will take

the people to K-5 again," he said, referring to the nationwide tree-felling

campaign launched by SOC in the mid-1980s which left many Cambodians dead or disabled

because of mines and disease.

"The fighting will never come to an end if SOC continues to battle against the

Khmer Rouge," he warned.



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