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
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
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.
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
"[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
The CPP, however, have long maintained that any
settlement will only be reached in Phnom Penh.
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
The party is also likely to play hardball in talks on who
will control key government ministries and Assembly
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
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
"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
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
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
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?"