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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tokyo bid prompts offers but no talk

Tokyo bid prompts offers but no talk

A JAPANESE bid to break the deadlock over Prince Norodom Ranarridh's return to Cambodia

fell short after the deposed Prime Minister rejected an offer by Hun Sen to run in

next year's general election if he is granted an amnesty by the King.

In the closest thing to negotiations between the two since Ranariddh's July ouster,

Hun Sen announced that he would not object to a Royal amnesty for Ranariddh if the

Prince were convicted in a Cambodian court. Ranariddh spurned the offer but he did

say he was prepared to drop his demand to be reinstated as Prime Minister.

The manuevering was prompted by Hun Sen's visit to Tokyo, where he met with senior

Japanese officials.

"[If] Ranariddh is convicted and if [he] requests amnesty from the King, then

I...would not object," the Second Prime Minister said at Tokyo press conference

Nov 7.

Ranariddh promptly rejected the "Tokyo initiative" - as some observers

dubbed it - and attacked Cambodia's judiciary as biased.

"I am not guilty of the crimes orchestrated by Mr Hun Sen's regime and thus

I am not prepared to submit myself to the judgment of a judicial system which has

been described by [UN human rights representative] Thomas Hammarberg... as not being

"neutral or independent'," Ranariddh said in a Nov 10 statement.

He added that he was ready to appear "in front of a fully independent and impartial

tribunal" to be judged for the crimes - illegal troop and weapons movements

- alleged against him by Hun Sen.

But the Prince did not completely shut the door opened by Hun Sen. In a Nov 14 radio

interview with Voice of America (VOA), Ranariddh said he was ready to renounce all

claims to the premiership, if the Hun Sen government would drop the charges against

him and allow him to run in the 1998 elections.

"I would be willing, even against the will of the people, and against legality

[and] legitimacy, to compromise," he said. "I'm not going to claim my place

as First Prime Minister, but the bottom line should be the dropping of the charges."

Hun Sen in turn dismissed Ranariddh's offer, saying that it was unacceptable because

it implied the government could pressure Cambodia's "independent" judiciary

to drop the charges against the Prince.

Ranariddh, in a Nov 17 press communiqué, bemoaned Hun Sen's uncompromising

stance.

"Unfortunately, my proposal has, once again, been rejected, as the previous

proposals of His Majesty the King and ASEAN," said Ranariddh.

He also accused Hun Sen of having opted for a "military solution" to the

"serious political crisis and devastating civil war" affecting the country.

"I wish to draw the attention... of the countries friendly to the Cambodian

people...to make Hun Sen responsible for the continuation of the war in Cambodia

and of the suffering, deaths and destruction that come with it," said Ranariddh.

Earlier, Ranariddh publicly blasted Japan and France, alleging they had adopted an

"accommodating" stance toward Hun Sen. An Agence France Presse report published

in the Bangkok Post Nov 12 quoted the Prince as saying the two countries were "major

obstacles to peace and national reconciliation and to free and fair elections".

The declaration of a cease-fire, the return of self-exiled politicians, the establishment

of an acceptable legal framework for the elections, and the participation of Ranariddh

in the polls are four criteria commonly cited by foreign donors as necessary for

them to recognize the elections as free and fair.

But some diplomatic sources and independent observers in Phnom Penh maintain several

key donor countries were prepared to ease international pressure for Ranariddh's

return, in exchange for Hun Sen's support for amendments to the draft electoral law.

"One has to wonder why the international community has gone to such lengths

to come up with a proposal that Ranariddh clearly could not accept," questioned

one observer last week of the Tokyo initiative.

Japan - considered by the Cambodian government as a potential major funder of the

1998 elections - has been a key force in securing Hun Sen's agreement to change the

draft election law.

According to CPP sources, Japanese pressure was the main reason why the Second Prime

Minister approved changes to the law - including giving the proposed National Election

Commission greater autonomy - several days before he left for Tokyo.

Two points in a statement issued at the end of a CPP congress last month - that the

party would respect the results of the 1998 vote, and would allow national and international

electoral observers - also came after Japan privately urged the CPP to make such

declarations.

In his meetings with Japanese officials including Prime Minister Hashimoto, Hun Sen

was urged to make at least some public signs of compromise to Ranariddh, according

to Cambodian government sources.

While Hun Sen obliged, with his offer not to object to a Royal pardon, he also made

it plain he would control the process and timing of any return by Ranariddh. He told

Japanese officials that after the Phnom Penh military court had tried the Prince,

the civil courts may also hear charges against him - a move which could delay any

amnesty and return by Ranariddh for months - according to sources.

The Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh, meanwhile, denied that Japan had agreed to reduce

its pressure for Ranariddh to be allowed to return to Cambodia, in exchange for changes

to the election law.

"Such a deal would not be in the interest of Japan," said a Japanese diplomat.

"We want to avoid that the Cambodian government side excludes Ranariddh from

the elections, and we want [them] to prepare a political formula so he can come back."

The diplomat also warned against placing "too much importance" on Ranariddh's

return as that would give the Prince "de-facto veto" on the elections.

"The door is open...it is his own responsibility to accept or not," the

diplomat said, echoing public statements by Hun Sen.

At Post press time, no official comment on the Toyko developments had been made by

the United States, the strongest supporter of a return by Ranariddh. One analyst

speculated the US would not go along with the Tokyo initiative, and has been lobbying

ASEAN nations to follow the US stance.

Meanwhile, moves continue to solicit the return of other self-exiled politicians,

with the United Nations drawing up plans to monitor such a return.

King Norodom Sihanouk, in China, called Nov 11 for the Phnom Penh government, the

UN and all countries signatory to the Paris Peace Accords to "provide protection

and guarantee the security" of all self-exiled MPs and government and military

officials who returned.

The next day, a communiqué by the Union of Cambodian Democrats (UCD) linked

any such return to the right of access to the electronic media for all political

parties.

"The return of political leaders will make sense only if once back in Cambodia

they can really and fully exert all their legal rights and freedoms and campaign

actively even in dangerous environment," a statement issued by the UCD said.

Some international and Cambodian observers - who cited the March 30 grenade attack,

the executions of Funcinpec officials, and a judicial system widely considered to

be biased - said the opposition politicians' concerns were justifiable.

One diplomat also commented that if opposition MPs returned, "they would be

coming back to no money, no infrastructure, thus no ability to campaign at a national

level".

But to continue to stay away, he added, would achieve little. "They must come

back and resume a political role, or they'll lose their currency."

Ballot delay suggested

IN the first official acknowledgment that the national elections scheduled for May

1998 may be postponed, co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng (CPP) said last week he

was worried about delays.

"I am very concerned that the election will not be held on time," Kheng

told reporters outside the National Assembly Nov 12, after the assembly session was

cancelled for the second day running because not enough MPs turned up.

"If the National Assembly delays debate on the draft electoral law, there is

nothing the Interior Ministry can do about it," Sar Kheng said.

Diplomats and other observers had previously questioned the government's ability

to organize the elections in time for the scheduled May 23, 1998 ballot date.

Other government sources said last week that an election date between September and

November next year was more likely, for technical reasons alone.

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