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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sirivudh's return likely as F'pec flex new muscles

Sirivudh's return likely as F'pec flex new muscles

PRINCE Norodom Sirivudh - a former Funcinpec Secretary General who was exiled to

France late last year for allegedly plotting to kill Second Prime Minister Hun Sen

- could soon return to Cambodia with the blessing of the King and both Prime Ministers.

Sources close to the Prince have confirmed that "negotiations" to secure

Sirivudh's return have been underway for "some time". The source declined

to be specific, but KNP chief Sam Rainsy said he expected the former Secretary General

of Funcinpec to be back in Phnom Penh "before the end of the year".

"I know that Ranariddh is pushing very hard to bring Sirivudh back," Rainsy

said, adding the mood for national reconcilliation was "very strong".

A Sirivudh deal was apparently struck during Hun Sen's meeting with Ranariddh on

August 17 - one in which Ranariddh apparently tested the power of Funcinpec's new,

stronger bargaining position following the Khmer Rouge split.

Also expected to return under a mass amnesty to be announced by the King on his birthday

October 31 is Prince Norodom Chakrapong who was banished after an abortive coup attempt

on July 2, 1994 and his alleged co-conspirator, Sin Song. If allowed to return they

would join a third alleged plotter, former Secretary of State at the Interior Ministry

Sin Sen who now remains under house arrest - ironically next door to Sirivudh's former

residence.

The King wrote Hun Sen August 29 seeking Sen's blessing to allow Sin Song to return

to "house arrest" in Phnom Penh and said he had already received a favorable

response to the request from Prince Norodom Ranariddh and National Assembly President

Chea Sim.

A spokesman for the Royal Cabinet said they had not yet seen any communication from

the King seeking Chakrapong's and Sirivudh's return to Cambodia. However, the spokesman

said such requests to Cambodia's political leadership would be "logical"

given the call for Sin Song's return and calls to amnesty breakaway KR leader, Ieng

Sary.

Speculation over Sirivudh's possible return was fueled this week as the result of

comments made by Ranariddh.

When talking to diplomats and journalists at a reception in honor of the Vietnamese

National Day on September 2, the First Prime Minister was asked if Ieng Sary was

granted amnesty by King Sihanouk, did that mean that a pardon might also be given

to his half-uncle Prince Sirivudh.

Prince Ranariddh replied favorably, noting that Sirivudh was still a member of the

National Assembly as well as a loyal member of the Funcinpec party.

Ranariddh commented that Sirivudh had contributed much to Funcinpec over many years.

He also indicated that a pardon for Prince Chakrapong was not out of the question.

At the time of Sirivudh's expulsion many observers were surprised at the apparent

lack of support he received from Funcinpec in the light of Hun Sen's charges against

him.

The National Assembly quickly and unanimously voted to strip the Prince of his immunity

from prosecution and he was confined to his home by squads of heavily armed troops.

A few days later he was exiled to France. Later he was found guilty by a court in

absentia and given ten years jail.

However, few observers were convinced of Sirivudh's guilt. KNP leader Sam Rainsy

describes the process which led to his exile as motivated by Hun Sen's publicly stated

strategy of "slicing up" his enemies.

"I think it is generally acknowledged that charges against Sirivudh were fabricated...motivated

by a desire to weaken Funcinpec as he [Hun Sen] has weakened the BLDP and the KNP,"

Rainsy said referring to internal schisms which split both parties.

"At that time Sirivudh was not liked by Ranariddh, but [the 1st PM] now knows

how weakened Funcinpec has become without Sirivudh."

Rainsy describes Hun Sen's offer of his "personal protection" to Ieng Sary

as a tactical error which allowed Ranariddh to demand Sirivudh's amnesty.

"Compared to Ieng Sary, Sin Song and Sin Sen, Siruvudh has not committed a serious

offense...if you support amnesty for Ieng Sary, you should be consistent...,"

Rainsy speculated.

"I think that Ranariddh and Hun Sen can bargain... Ranariddh would favor an

annulment of the law outlawing the Khmer Rouge while Hun Sen wants to grant amnesty

on a case by case basis.

"It seems that Ranariddh has asked the King to grant amnesty to Ieng Sary and

he wants amnesty for Sirivudh in return...I think we are moving towards this type

of arrangement," Rainsy said.

"The whole situation is a win for Funcinpec - Hun Sen spoke too early about

Ieng Sary and now he must save face. Funcinpec are using the situation to extract

concessions..."

Sirivudh declined to comment on the issue when contacted in France by the Post ,

saying the situation was far too delicate. "But I want to come back to Cambodia,"

he said, "I love my country."

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