ìWhat do you want? You want a real bloodshed in this country or not? I think that my people will understand. [They] will understand we as leaders of the nation, we could not bring all the people to death.î ñ Ranariddh, Sept 14
A WEEK of pitched street confrontations between pro-opposition protesters and police
virtually ended Sept 14 with Prince Norodom Ranariddh's decision to talk.
Talk. Finally. To his ally, Sam Rainsy. To his father King Sih-anouk. To his foes,
first CPP President Chea Sim, then to Prime Minister-elect Hun Sen at a "summit"
meeting Sept 22.
Ranariddh's decision, along with protest instigator Rainsy, has been widely welcomed.
But, nevertheless, it has brought about questions in many minds as to the pair's
The essence of their support to "the people's will" rallies - which were
created and encouraged by the two political leaders, but foremost Rainsy - was to
resolve festering disputes within the electoral process. The opposition parties pared
down their demands to just two points: change the formula that was used to apportion
seats to votes; and publicly account for the used and unused ballots.
The popular protests quickly changed tack to demand Hun Sen's ouster, even as CPP
authorities procrastinated for 16 days about using force.
Both Ranariddh and Rainsy repeatedly said they would not begin negotiating with the
CPP unless their demands were met. But they have now begun negotiations and none
of their demands have so far been met.
Furthermore, up to 18 of their supporters, and probably more, are dead.
One Khmer voter explained his feelings as follows: it's too late to "welcome"
Ranariddh and Rainsy's decision to talk, he said. Nothing has changed since the protests
first began in late August. He said the only difference now was that Ranariddh had
been scared - scared for his own life following an armed CPP rally through the capital's
streets that was protected by police.
A diplomatic source differed, saying Ranariddh had instead been scared by Rainsy's
"need for martyrs, like in Indonesia. But this is not Jakarta... Neither of
them cares about the people," he said. "Ranariddh now understands he had
been trapped by Rainsy in a game that would only have seen him lose... Everyone knew
the [violent] consequences of Rainsy's activities - it could have been a bloodbath
- and Ranariddh knows that now better than most."
The Post attempted to question Ranariddh and Rainsy. Why stop the demonstrations
now? Why weren't they stopped after the first person was killed - Chem Pich, the
moto-driver, outside the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana on Sept 7? Why was there no effort
to stop the protests before they became - as they later claimed - uncontrollable?
Rainsy, however, was still holed up in the offices of UN special representative Lakhan
Mehrotra. So was his wife, Tioulong Saumura and their young daughter.
Neither, under such protection, is allowed to speak publicly. Questioning Rainsy
and Saumura, then, must wait till a calmer day.
News organizations are still receiving faxes expressing the views of the president
of the Sam Rainsy Party. A noticeable one was the statement sent to the media Sept
14 in which the party reprinted Rainsy speeches that were softer in tone those he
had earlier delivered. Quotes from Rainsy asking for the United States to bomb Hun
Sen's residence were not reprinted.
Journalists, however, did get to Ranariddh. After finishing a luncheon in the Cambodiana
with Rainsy, Thai and UN representatives that included poached salmon steaks, the
Prince was ambushed by a pack of journalists as he made his way downstairs to his
car. Rainsy slipped away almost unnoticed.
The following are some of Ranariddh's answers to questions that his own supporters
have shown an interest in asking, such as why the demonstrations were ordered stopped:
Ranariddh: "For [the protesters'] very courageous [stance] for democracy and
justice in this country one.
Secondly, I ask them to call off any demonstration because now we are reaching, thanks
to their efforts and thanks to the effort of the international community, a new turning
point. [The] turning point now we are reaching [is] the negotiating time, so both
sides now have agreed to restraint, not making any demonstration...
My third point, His Excellency Sam Rainsy and I, have agreed to attend any summit
meeting... Following the summit meeting, we will be able, I hope, to move to a democratic
process... at least to move, but it depends - I have to be very clear on this - it
depends on the outcome of the summit meeting...
WTN: But the demonstrators?
Ranariddh: ... If [there is] no positive response from the authorities to our demands
on the election and so on, it will not be possible even for me to, let's say, call
[the protesters] off again. It is dangerous, therefore, it is not enough to pressure
the opposition but give it back in turn to a concrete... a positive response and
starting with the lifting of any interdiction for the MP and leaders to move and
freedom of movement [and] freedom of any arrest.
WTN: What is the progress in your talks?
Ranariddh: Talks are going on. It is for me premature [to talk about them] but I
say it's progress because now we are reaching a new turning point which is a negotiation
time, not only demonstration.
WTN: What is the exact outcome you are looking for from the government side?
Ranariddh: To show goodwill. That there are no threats against Sam Rainsy and other
leaders from the opposition... [they stop] their use of forces anymore, and we try
to calm down our supporters, and finally technical considerations, our two demands
which are very reasonable. We have dropped almost all from 800 [demands] down to
Associated Press: When will you talk to your supporters?
Ranariddh: I do not need [to]. I ask you to do it and the Voice of America did it
very well yesterday, it's continuing. But we have issued another statement calling
off any demonstration.
Post: Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy are stirring up the genuine anger of the people and
now you are ready to negotiate with the man you were asking to resign a few days
ago. How can you face your supporters now?
Ranariddh: No... Any political actions, etc must have a way out... you cannot bring
all the people like this - until their backs [are against] the wall. No, I think
that we have to be reasonable. That we have to negotiate under his Majesty the King.
We have to meet, the two parties have to meet as far as Samdech Hun Sen is concerned.
We have to talk. We still have a long, long, long way to go. We have to talk step
by step. Please contribute to facilitate the solution and not create any difficulties.
Post: But do you think it is responsible for political leaders to stir up social
unrest for political bargaining?
Ranariddh: You see, it is up to the demands of the people that are very clear and
let us solve this problem under the leadership of His Majesty the King. It depends
on the outcome [whether] we will join or not the National Assembly, so we will bring
to the negotiation table all the points of the demands of the people. Yes, it is
Post: So what will you address to your people. You have so many people every day
in the streets?
Ranariddh: Yes, we have said already, please slow down and wait for the outcome of
the summit meeting. Thank you.
Post: How many ministerial positions do you think you will be able to have because
of the social unrest in the streets in the past few weeks?
Ranariddh: What, what minister? I do not understand.
Post: Do you think you will be able to have better ministries?
Ranariddh: No, we are not bargaining for any portfolios, for any portfolios, no,
no. It is very premature to talk about the formation of the government. We have to
talk about the National Assembly first and so we still have a long way, a lot of
road to go.
Post: When are you going to address your supporters who are still in the streets
facing the police?
Ranariddh: But we have sent already you know - ha, ha - we have issued a communiqué
and so on. And I cannot address my supporters [at a] time when I do not have a concrete
and positive response from the other side also.
Post: Do you think they will understand that you are ready to negotiate, they are
still in the streets asking for Hun Sen to resign and you are ready to negotiate
with Hun Sen?
Ranariddh: What do you want? You want a real bloodshed in this country or not? I
think that my people will understand. [They] will understand we as leaders of the
nation, we could not bring all the people to death. If there is little possibility
to bring back peace to this country, to live a normal life in this country and [that]
their demands will be fulfilled. How to fulfill those demands without talking? You
cannot fulfill those demands by killing people one after another until the end of
the Cambodian race. I think that we have to be reasonable on this one.
Post: Why was not this decision made two weeks ago to avoid the bloodshed?
Ranariddh: No, you see we have to be very clear. For 16 days it was a peaceful demonstration.
But only when the crackdown started that the peaceful demonstration turned [a] very
bloody and very violent one. So we have to talk about responsibility as well, but
we cannot do anything through demonstrations.
"You know I [did not] participate [with these] demonstrations. I think that
the only one way out is the time when both sides realize that it is time to give
a chance to this country to survive. We have to take it.
As a leader... you know you cannot find more stronger, let's say leader - fighter
even - than Mr Sam Rainsy. I was much more relaxed, much more cool than Mr Sam Rainsy.
But even Sam Rainsy has decided now - has realized now - that we have to give a chance
to this country, to the people of this country to get out of the situation and to
live a normal life.
(The Prince points to the entrance of the Mekong restaurant) I would like to see
more clients, more customers for this hotel. I have to provide more jobs and employment
for them. The only one way out is to really put an end to this... but at the same
time to take care of the will of the people and to defend what they are willing,
through their demonstrations, [for] more than 16 days now.
AFP: So you think that the 16 days of demonstration are like a test for democracy?
Now you know you cannot succeed...?
Ranariddh: No, no, no. One, it is a real test for democracy in this country. And
second, we have installed in this country new traditions of democracy and thirdly,
thanks to [demonstrations] we can talk and we can talk fruitfully.
Post: OK, four people have died and several have been injured during the demonstration,
so from their blood you are ready to negotiate now?
Ranariddh: Why are you like this? You are coming from what newspaper? What is your
Post: Phnom Penh Post.
Ranariddh: Ah... Phnom Penh Post. It is not the mentality of the Phnom Penh Post.
(The journalists laugh). I think that is the new Phnom Penh Post blood.
OK good, its... very good. We would not negotiate through any blood. We feel very
harm. We feel very sorry, Miss, for this. They are not four - they are more than
four, and for the first time in this country monks have been beaten, Buddhist monks
have been killed and so it is in order to put an end to more killings, to more bloodshed,
that we negotiate, but we negotiate not in a weak position. I don't use their blood
to negotiate, I have to negotiate because I do not want more bloodshed. This is different.
Post: So will you work with Sam-dech Hun Sen?
Ranariddh: Definitely not.