Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Blind date with court keeps F'pec guessing



Blind date with court keeps F'pec guessing

Blind date with court keeps F'pec guessing

L OYALISTS of Prince Norodom Ranariddh arrived in Phnom Penh last month to energize

Funcinpec for the deposed first premier's planned mid-January return, but continued

delays in the pending trial against the Prince may be another example of the CPP

attempting to keep its main rival off balance for as long as possible in the run-up

to election day.

One senior Funcinpec official in Phnom Penh alleged that the CPP has accepted the

international community's demand for Ranariddh to participate in the July polls,

but wants to stall the court case to keep the Prince - who has declared he will ignore

the proceedings - from returning in January.

"Before, when the election date was in May, things began happening to bring

the Prince back," said the Funcinpec official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"But now that we have pushed it back to July, they want to delay."

The CPP pushed for polls to be held in May because the party's leadership believed

an earlier date would give them an advantage over the fractured Funcinpec, according

to a party spokesman.

But Prak Sokhonn, a political adviser of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, denied the

government or the CPP was meddling in the affairs of the court.

"It is not the stance of the government or Samdech Hun Sen," he said of

the accusations. "Samdech Hun Sen clearly said he would like the trial to be

held as soon as possible, but as you know, he cannot affect the decisions of the

court."

Ney Thol, director of the military court, continued to insist at press time that

the investigating judge handling Prince Rana-riddh's case is still gathering evidence

for the trial, adding that an announcement on the trial date will be made one or

two weeks before proceedings begin.

Members of a Funcinpec delegation that spent nine days in Phnom Penh to prepare for

the eventual return of Ranariddh expressed confidence that the Prince will be back

soon, calling Jan 15 "a tentative date."

"We've been guaranteed by my friends not to worry about his return. I am here

merely to clean and fix the Funcinpec house in preparation," delegation head

Lu Laysreng said.

However, Hun Sen has already turned up the political heat on Prince Ranariddh as

he and other self-exiles prepare to come home. Speaking to reporters while on vacation

at the seaside town of Sihanoukville, Hun Sen said Ranariddh would be jailed if he

returned in January and questioned whether a Sam Rainsy-brokered amnesty from King

Norodom Sihanouk will clear the Prince to participate in the election.

"Even if Ranariddh receives an amnesty, he is still not fully eligible to take

part in elections because the law prohibits any party that has its own army or secession

zone to take part," Hun Sen said, adding that he opposed the King's promised

amnesty because it would "encourage Ranariddh to commit wrong-doings forever".

Prak Sokhonn said the apparently new roadblock to the Prince's return is not a change

in position by the Second Prime Minister, but a clarification of law.

"I think he was referring to the political parties law, which states a party

should not have any armed forces," he said. "It doesn't mean [an amnesty]

won't open the door for Ranariddh's return, I think he wanted only to say that it

may not be enough."

Hun Sen's sudden objection to the King's offer to unilaterally pardon his son, along

with the recent appearance in Phnom Penh of leaflets objecting to the prince's return,

add credence to the allegations that the CPP is actively attempting to undermine

Rana-riddh's return.

The leaflets, found chiefly around Wat Phnom, proclaimed: "If there is Ranariddh,

Khmer Rouge hardliners will come back to society," and encouraged residents

of the capital to "please join in more public expressions to reject the return

of Ranariddh".

In October 1996, King Siha-nouk abruptly canceled a mass pardon of convicts after

National Police chief Hok Lundy, a senior CPP official, and student groups associated

with the CPP publicly criticized the monarch's will to pardon lesser criminals after

granting an amnesty to former Khmer Rouge deputy premier Ieng Sary.

Ranariddh's self-exiled cabinet lashed back at Hun Sen in a Dec 30 statement accusing

the Second Prime Minister of placing "unacceptable conditions" on the Prince's

return that are jeopardizing the 1998 election.

"Hun Sen, the author of the bloody coup d'état of 5-6 July 1997, continues

to place obstacles to the return of the legal and democratically elected First Prime

Minister of Cambodia," the cabinet wrote.

The senior Funcinpec official in Phnom Penh claimed the CPP now would like to put

off Ranariddh's return until as late as June, but he warned that keeping the deposed

first premier out of the country too long could cause a surge of royalist sentiment

among voters right before the election.

"Then the Prince will be like fresh bread, hot and crispy, and everyone will

want some," he said.

Whenever the Prince does return, his first task will clearly be to convince as many

members of his broken party that he is still the man Cambodians want to be prime

minister. Lu Laysreng asserted that a majority of the Funcinpec rank-and-file, as

well as party officials who stayed in Cambodia after the July coup, will remain loyal

to him during his run for re-election.

"[Ranariddh] is the big chief. When the big chief comes back, all the little

chiefs will follow him," he said. "Our party members throughout the country

wish for his immediate return."

One who chose not to flee Phnom Penh in the wake of the fighting, Interior co-Minister

You Hockry, said he is still loyal to the party, but hinted that his eventual political

future may not be by Prince Ranariddh's side.

"I'm Funcinpec and I will stay Funcinpec, for the time being. I don't want to

elaborate," he said outside the National Assembly.

Funcinpec Secretary-General Loy Sim Chheang is continuing his plans to lead a new

royalist party in the upcoming election, but Lu Laysreng claimed that the Assembly

first vice president will ally himself with Funcinpec during the election campaign.

"I congratulate him. [on his new party]. He told me that we will work alongside

each other," Lu Laysreng said of Loy Sim Chheang.

Industry Minister Pou Sothirak and senior Funcinpec parliamentarian Om Radsady, both

seen as close to Loy Sim Chheang, also declared they were still Funcinpec members

but would not discuss their feelings toward Prince Ranariddh's leadership of the

party.

First Prime Minister Ung Huot plans to run in the 1998 polls, but he is not a viable

enough candidate for the premiership to attract many Funcinpec officials, You Hockry

claimed.

"Ung Huot said he expected to win 15 [National Assembly] seats. I don't want

to be a member of a party that doesn't expect to win," he said. "He asked

me to join his side, but I said no."

There is a shred of hope among Ranariddh loyalists that Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay,

leader of a Funcinpec faction that broke away from the prince last April, would also

enter into a loose royalist alliance, according to the self-exiles' representative.

"Toan Chay and I worked together in the resistance for many years," Lu

Laysreng said, adding that he had dinner with the provincial governor during his

visit to the capital.

"People make mistakes....We discussed many things last night," he said

of the meeting. "There is good sentiment. At least he recalls our past history."

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