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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ranariddh maneuvered into new summit

Ranariddh maneuvered into new summit

HOMECOMING, AGAIN

Prince Norodom Ranariddh outside his home on his return to Phnom Penh, Nov 12.

FUNCINPEC leader Prince Noro-dom Ranariddh flew back for

renewed talks in Phnom Penh yesterday (Nov 12) after

being assured that neither he nor his MPs need fear

arrest or prosecution.

Ranariddh was greeted by a group including the

ambassadors to the United States and Canada, and

representatives from his party and one from the UN

Secretary-General's office.

Ranariddh had one of the King's North Korean bodyguards

as personal security. His motorcade left quickly and he

did not speak to reporters.

He later went to the Royal Palace for a summit chaired by

his father King Sihanouk with CPP President Chea Sim and

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Funcinpec negotiating team is Ranariddh,

Secretary-General Tol Lah, Co-Interior Minister You

Hockry, Kong Vibol and Pok Than. The CPP team also

includes Cabinet Minister Sok An, Om Sarith and Prak

Sokhonn.

The talks are expected to continue today, Nov 13. The

King is scheduled to leave for medical treatment in

Beijing on Saturday the 14th.

It is the first time the four leaders have been in the

same room since Sept 24, immediately before the new

National Assembly was sworn in at Siem Reap. The

difference now is that both Funcinpec and the CPP say

they have an agenda on which to base coalition

negotiations, and that Sam Rainsy, the leader of the

party placed third in the elections, is absent.

 

DEJA VU?

From left: Chea Sim, King Sihanouk, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen, outside the Royal Palace Nov 12.

"I wish you great success in your discussions,"

Rainsy faxed to Ranariddh and various media at 4:41pm

yesterday from Paris.

"You have my full support in

defense of the national interest and in pushing for...

fundamental reforms intended to put Cambodia back on her

feet...

"[Y]ou are more entitled than any other political

leader to speak on behalf of the Cambodian people and to

defend their aspirations for peace, democracy, prosperity

and social justice," Rainsy said.

Although it sounded that Rainsy was happy to sit out the

summit in Paris, Funcinpec "are really worried that

Rainsy won't be included," one Funcinpec insider

said. The Prince knows that "Rainsy [was] better

included, otherwise there will be drama again... [Rainsy]

could destroy everything."

Ranariddh's return may be less an immediate breakthrough,

however, than it seems, according to analysts.

"Maybe they can start by just having a bowl of soup

together and talk eye-to-eye," said one Funcinpec

MP, who said there had been no deal struck. "I will

be very, very surprised if anything comes out of this

meeting," said another. "I think it will have

to continue in Beijing... maybe in Beijing something will

happen."

The CPP, however, have long maintained that any

settlement will only be reached in Phnom Penh.

ROUNDTABLE

Proof that the parties are talking. From left: Sok An, Hun Sen, Chea Sim, King Sihanouk, Prince Ranariddh, Tol Lah and You Hokry, Royal Palace Nov 12.

The sticking point of chairmanship of the National

Assembly seems as deadlocked as ever, the CPP showing no

interest in giving up titular control of that or the

Constitutional Council.

The party is also likely to play hardball in talks on who

will control key government ministries and Assembly

committees.

One possible bright point is that an agenda actually

seems to exist for the first time even if it was

immediately put in dispute by Hockry at the airport

waiting for Ranariddh's return.

Hun Sen, Hockry said, had suggested a three-item agenda:

bilateral cooperation; the structure of the National

Assembly; and the composition of government. Funcinpec

wanted to remove the item about "bilateral

cooperation" from the agenda, Hockry said.

All this time, Ranariddh has been under massive

diplomatic pressure in Bangkok to return to talk, sources

say.

Many diplomats, predominately from Japan and some

European states, have massaged a climate such that

Ranariddh could do little else but come back. He was due

to fly to France this Saturday before accepting counsel

that the only trip he should be thinking about was one to

Cambodia.

"It is all due to the Japanese, [Ranariddh] coming

back," said one Funcinpec official at the airport.

Asked whether there would be any common ground between

the two parties at the talks, he said: "Japan will

provide that too."

At a meeting last week of the Friends of Cambodia, which

has apparently been renamed the Friends of the

Secretary-General of Cambodia, the only conclusion

reached was that foreign governments should put pressure

on both the CPP and the opposition to compromise and form

a government, according to one Phnom Penh-based diplomat.

Funcinpec has been worried that some of their number may

be arrested on their return. The CPP, however, has

privately given assurances that their are no prima facie

cases against any Royalist representative.

These assurances were given by Interior Minister Sar

Kheng to his Funcinpec counterpart Hockry at 11am

Wednesday morning (Nov 11). At that stage, sources say,

Hun Sen was writing a clarification on the prima facie

cases on Ranariddh's request.

Although Kheng assured Hockry that Funcinpec MPs were

safe, he also added that preliminary cases existed in

Phnom Penh against certain Rainsy MPs, whom he would not

name.

Another important reason why Rana-riddh has returned is

to shore up a Funcinpec party that is in danger of

splintering. "There is a worry that Funcinpec people

are about to cross the floor," said one analyst.

The CPP had already predicted such a phenomenon. "If

Ranariddh stays in Bang-kok it means his party is

remaining strong," one CPP official told the Post in

early October, "but if he returns it will be a sign

the party is breaking up... a sign of weaknesses."

Ranariddh's return and the possibility of a breakthrough

in the political impasse that has prevented the formation

of a new government for almost three and a half months

since the July elections comes on the heels of a lengthy

two and a half hour meeting that King Sihanouk had with

foreign diplomats at the Royal Palace Nov 7.

Several diplomats who attended the meeting said the King

was extremely frustrated with the current deadlock, that

he openly criticized the two opposition partieseven to

the point of accusing Rainsy and Ranariddh of "not

behaving democratically"and that he strongly urged

the international community not to suspend aid, as has

been called for by the opposition.

"The King thinks these guys [Ranariddh and Rainsy]

are playing games at the expense of the Cambodian

people," said one diplomat. "He thinks they are

not interested in finding a solution to the

problem."

The King's frustration with the opposition was "very

palpable" added another ambassador who attended the

meeting. "None of this is new," he added.

"He's been saying these things for some time. He's

pretty frustrated with the whole process."

According to a third participant, the King said

"They want me to go against Hun Sen but I have only

30 bodyguards. They are very good but there are only

30."

The King is apparently also not optimistic about Sam

Rainsy eventually joining a coalition government.

"Rainsy and Hun Sen hate each other," the King

was quoted as saying to the assembled diplomatic corps.

"He left the door open for Rainsy," said one

ambassador, "but his preference is for Ranariddh and

CPP to form a government."

On the issue of suspending aid to Cambodia until a

government is formed, the King found a receptive audience

for his exhortations that funding not be cut. None of the

diplomats spoken to by the Post indicated that they saw

any reason why the country should be punished.

"This country needs aid," said one diplomat.

"They can't depend on foreign investment picking up

in the near future. Without aid how long could this

country keep its head above water?"

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